Lawmakers to debate bill that would legalize medically assisted death in Hawaii

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - House representatives are scheduled for a hearing on a bill to legalize medically-assisted death Tuesday morning.

This is a tough issue, which Hawaii legislators have closely examined numerous times over the last 20 years, but lawmakers behind the latest effort say they believe it's necessary and appropriate to give patients the ability to choose how and when they want to die.

After years of evaluation and debate, state legislators behind House Bill 2739 say they have concluded that adult, terminally-ill residents of Hawaii should have the fundamental right to determine their own medical treatment as they near the end of life — including the right to avoid prolonged pain and suffering by choosing how and when to die.

House Bill 2739 would allow qualified adults who have a medically-confirmed terminal illness, have less than six months to live, and who are mentally competent to determine their own medical care by obtaining a prescription for medication to end their life.

In order to prevent any possible abuse, lawmakers have proposed several safeguards — including criminal sanctions for tampering with or coercing a patient to request a prescription.

Among the protections, a patient will have to submit two verbal requests — at least 15 days apart — and one written request for a lethal prescription to the physician or advanced practice registered nurse who is providing their care. This needs to be witnessed by two people — at least one of whom is unrelated to the patient, and/or who would not be entitled to any of the person's estate after death.

The request would only be valid if the patient's diagnosis, prognosis, mental competence and voluntariness to pursue medically-assisted death has been confirmed by two health care providers.

A patient would have the right to rescind a request at any time and in any manner.

According to local lawmakers, at least 30 states have either enacted or considered enacting laws to allow mentally competent adult residents who have a terminal illness to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication that would allow the person to die — but they say the process and protections they're proposing for Hawaii would the most rigorous safeguards in the country and effectively limit any potential abuse.

During last year's session, a similar bill passed out of the Senate but didn't make it through the House Health Committee.

The initiative was adamently opposed by religious groups and advocates for the disabled, who believed their care would suffer or they would be taken advantage of if the measure passed.

Last year's bill was passionately supported by many terminally-ill patients and their families, who referred to it as "death with dignity".

This year's measure has the support of Lt. Governor and former Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin who says, ""I believe the people of Hawai'i should be empowered to make intensely personal and incredibly difficult end-of-life choices when they face a grave illness with no hope for relief."

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. before the House Health and Human Services and Judiciary committees in the state Capitol auditorium.

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