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Kahala retirement home changes policy to allow medically assisted death

Kahala Nui retirement community has formally changed a policy for its independent-living residents so they can take advantage of a state law allowing the terminally ill to obtain medication to end their life.

The policy change comes in response to a November letter sent by the ACLU of Hawai‘i demanding that Kahala Nui stop unlawfully interfering with residents’ access to aid in dying and to drop language in a policy that expressed preference for Catholics.

In May the retirement community notified its residents that the recently passed Our Care, Our Choice Act, which provides medical aid in dying, was “not an option” for residents because it would conflict with provisions of the retirement community’s ground lease with the Catholic Church.

The lease forbids activities “inconsistent with the doctrines and teachings of the Church,” but the ACLU objected, saying Kahala Nui may not discriminate on the basis of religion under federal and state fair-housing laws.

In addition to revising its residency agreement and preference for Catholics, Kahala Nui is contacting prospective residents previously on its waiting list to inform them of the changes.

“The ACLU of Hawai‘i is pleased that we were able to work with Kahala Nui to correct these issues. This goes a long way to ensuring that its residents’ freedom of religion will be respected,” ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Mateo Caballero said Friday in a news release.

Pat Duarte, CEO and president of Kahala Nui, took exception to the ACLU “framing this as a victory.”

“Kahala Nui has never imposed religious dictates on its residents or otherwise discriminated on the basis of religion,” Duarte said. “We have conveyed this several times to the ACLU, and we have never received any complaints from our residents regarding the imposition of religious beliefs or practices.”

Duarte asserted that the May notification referred only to the residents of Kahala Nui’s health care facility, in accordance with an exemption provided by the Our Care, Our Choice Act, and not to the independent- living residential units.

“What our independent- living residents choose to do in exercising their rights is a personal matter between them and their loved ones and we will not prevent them from participating in the activity within their independent-living residences,” he said in a statement.

Hawaii’s assisted-death statute, signed into law by Gov. David Ige in April, gives terminally ill patients the choice to obtain prescription medication to end their life.

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