A bill to legalize medically assisted death for terminally ill patients now awaits Gov. David Ige’s signature to become law after the state Senate today passed the measure.
The Senate voted 23-2 to approve House Bill 2739, known as the Our Care, Our Choice Act.
The bill sets out procedures for mentally competent adult residents who have been given six months or less to live to request prescriptions for lethal doses of medication to be self-administered.
Before the vote, Sen. Breene Harimoto, who was diagnosed in 2015 with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, spoke in opposition of the bill, calling it physician-assisted suicide.
“My faith in God, prayers and a sense of hope got me through this,” he said on the Senate floor. “I feel so strongly that we must always have hope and never give up.”
Harimoto added, “I was not supposed to be here today. Last week I was diagnosed with cancer in my lung.” He said he thanked God for the opportunity to be able to cast his “no” vote today.
Other senators, meanwhile, said the bill is about freedom of choice.
“There is no reason to deny others the freedom to live and die as we choose,” said Sen. Russell Ruderman.
Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room physician, said he supported the measure with serious reservations. Green said that as a physician he’s sworn to do no harm, but he also feels obligated to do everything he can to alleviate patients’ suffering.
The governor has already said he supports the measure. It would take effect Jan. 1.
If signed, Hawaii would become the sixth state to pass legislation allowing physician-assisted death. California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state have legalized the practice along with the District of Columbia. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that physician-assisted death is legal there under existing law.
In initial public hearings on HB 2739, lawmakers listened to several hours of often emotional testimony split in favor of and against the measure.
Supporters asserted that mentally competent individuals should have the option to end their lives peacefully and with dignity rather than suffer from painful and debilitating illnesses.
Opponents argued that life should be treated as a gift and equated medically assisted death with suicide. Some opponents worry that patients might end their lives prematurely, and say pain relief is already available through hospice and palliative care.
A recent poll commissioned by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser found support for medical aid in dying is high among Hawaii voters. Overall, 71 percent of poll participants said medical aid in dying should be approved while 19 percent said it should not be allowed. Ten percent were unsure.