HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Senate approved a measure Thursday that would make Hawaii the sixth state in the nation to legalize medical "aid in dying," also referred to as physician-assisted suicide.
House Bill 2739, the "Our Care, Our Choice Act," now heads to governor's desk after passing the full Senate, in a 23-to-2 vote.
Gov. David Ige has expressed support for the measure, which would go into effect Jan. 1.
Aid-in-dying legislation has been decades in the making, and prompted hours of emotional testimony — from both sides.
Supporters said the bill has some of the strongest safeguards in the nation, but critics say they want more to improve enforcement and prevent abuse.
"We've come a long ways ... All I can do is remember all those folks who are no longer with us who worked to see this day," said Scott Foster, co-founder of the Hawaii Death with Dignity Society.
But Eva Andrade of the Hawaii Family Forum said her group will continue to speak out about flaws in the bill.
"The overarching message that suicide is okay in some instances is not a message that resonates with the people of Hawaii. There's no aloha in suicide," Andrade said.
The bill allows a physician to prescribe life-ending medication to a mentally capable patient with less than six months to live.
Under the bill, the patient must be able to take the medication themselves, only physicians can prescribe it (and not advance practice nurses) and it requires a mental health consultation.
"Counseling is an opportunity for the individual to speak with someone so we know that this is their authentic choice," said state Rep. Della Au Belatti, (D) Makiki.
Sixteen years ago, State Sen. Donna Kim was among those who defeated an assisted suicide bill. But today, she was among the huge majority in the Senate voting for the measure.
"We could do more and I'm hoping we can do more. But in the meantime, people are suffering," she said.
But opponents said there's still not enough protections.
"Passing this legislation opens the door to normalizing other types of suicides," said Gabbard, (D) Kapolei.
State Senator Breene Harimoto, the second no vote, disclosed that he's been diagnosed with lung cancer. He previously survived a bout of pancreatic cancer.
"We should not be making laws to allow physicians to be complicit in causing death. Instead, we should be making laws to give people a sense of hope," said Harimoto, (D) Pearl City.
Medical aid-in-dying bills have been debated at the state Legislature for more than two decades. And during this legislative session, as in years past, big crowds have turned out to make sure their voices were heard.