Hawaii lawmakers to hear controversial 'death with dignity' bill

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Should a terminally ill adult in the final stages of dying get to choose when, where and how? That's one of the biggest considerations at the heart of this polarizing issue.

Senate Bill 1129 would establish a "death with dignity" act under which permanent Hawaii residents who are terminally ill can obtain a prescription for medication to end their life.

Advocates say it's an individual's right to choose and it can end suffering with a more compassionate, painless death on a patient's terms.

According to testimony submitted by the national director of policy and programs for Compassion & Choices, a recent Hawaii poll demonstrated overwhelming support from voters with about 80 percent approving of a death with dignity act.

However, opponents say it could lower quality of care and could lead to elder abuse.

Some doctors have argued it violates their Hippocratic Oath, an oath taken at the beginning of their medical practice to uphold certain ethical standards.

One retired long-term palliative care physician submitted testimony urging lawmakers not to pass the bill saying, "while perhaps benefiting the few who would appropriately choose this, has the real potential of harming a greater number of vulnerable individuals."

Hundreds of pages of written testimony has already been submitted for legislators to review. It indicates the Hawaii Medical Association has switched its long-standing opposition to medical aid in dying, and has recently adopted a neutral stance, which the Hawaii Disability Rights Center also shares.

One of the state's largest hospice care organizations, along with the Nursing Board, have offered testimony taking no official positions on the bill, but have asked to be included in this important discussion, which they say requires more examination before any policy decisions are made or laws are adopted.

The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee will be hearing the bill Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

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