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Medically assisted death bill passes last major hurdle in Hawaii Legislature

Nanea Kalani
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CRAIG T.KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are on the verge of passing a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to request prescriptions for lethal doses of medication.

A proposal to legalize medically assisted death for terminally ill patients cleared its last major hurdle at the state Legislature this morning, clearing the way for a full vote by the Senate, where the proposal is expected to pass comfortably.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to advance House Bill 2739, known as the Our Care, Our Choice Act. Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) voted against the measure, citing concerns about government interfering in personal matters.

The committee did not make any amendments to the bill, which would allow terminally ill patients to request prescriptions for lethal doses of medication. Today’s committee hearing was a decision-making procedure only; no oral testimony was accepted.

The full Senate will vote on the measure early next week.

Scott Foster, co-founder of the Hawaii Death With Dignity Society, said he’s been advocating for legislation for more than 20 years.

“Based on the support of the full Senate last year, I think it will pass. And after 25-plus years, we’ve achieved it,” Foster said after the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote. “I’m not elated — it’s such a serious issue. But I’m relieved and thankful that we can now give so many people some relief and some hope.”

Last legislative session, a similar measure easily passed the Senate but was tabled by a House committee and never put to a House floor vote. This time around the House drafted a bill, approved it by a 39-12 vote this month, and sent it over to the Senate for consideration.

Eva Andrade, president of the Hawaii Family Forum, which works with the faith-based community and opposes the measure, described today’s committee vote as just another step in the process.

“It’s just a step. We’re not done. Our message is one of hope. Our message is one to the community that suicide is never a solution,” Andrade said.

She added that the organization plans to go out into communities to “educate people on what this bill actually says so that no one ever chooses it.”

Gov. David Ige has already said he supports the measure and would be “proud and honored” to sign it into law. The bill as written would take effect Jan. 1.

Mentally competent residents who are at least 18 years old and have been given six months or less to live would be eligible under the bill to request lethal medication.

Two health care providers would need to confirm the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, competence and that the request is voluntary.

Before any medication is prescribed, a patient would need to receive mandatory counseling from a psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker. The bill calls for criminal penalties for tampering with a patient’s prescription request or coercing a patient to request a prescription.

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