HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Six months after Hawaii’s new medical aid in dying law went into effect, the state says eight terminally ill patients were prescribed the life-ending medication.
But not all of them have taken it.
From Jan. 1 and May 31, two patients ingested the lethal cocktail and died, the state Health Department said in a new report.
The two were a 75-year-old man with prostate cancer and a 73-year-old man with ALS.
The report says another patient died from lung cancer without taking the prescription.
"I believe the law is working in the way it was intended to," said Dr. Chuck Miller, who oversees medical aid in dying requests at Kaiser Permanente. "It's got some glitches and some barriers, but overall it's working."
Miller retired as Kaiser’s chief of oncology 10 years ago, but has returned to work to help patients who want to use the new law to end their lives.
"Kaiser all together I think probably has had 18 requests in six months, which is a bit higher than we had anticipated," said Miller.
While Hawaii has the nation's most stringent law, advocates say it's too strict for patients who are suffering and don't have a lot of time.
"You have to have two different physicians say that you're terminally ill with six months or less to live, and Hawaii has a mandatory mental health assessment," said Samantha Trad, state director for advocacy group Compassion and Choices.
“There is also a minimum 20 day waiting period, which is the longest waiting period that any of the authorized states have.”
Miller says the roll out of the law was "pretty rocky," and that it took 60 days for his first patient to receive the medication.
The Health Department says the shortest waiting period recorded so far has been 22 days.
"Just having the prescription brings a huge sense of relief to the patient to know that they have that control. That if their suffering becomes unbearable, they have that option," said Trad.
Miller says other challenges are there are only three pharmacies -- two on Oahu and one on Kauai -- that will mix the drugs.
And the state Health Department says there are just four physicians writing prescriptions.
Miller says with education and awareness, he's hopeful more of his colleagues will come around.
"Most of them, I hope, will be willing to write prescriptions at least for their patients. Patients that they've been taking care of for sometimes years and would be willing to support their final wish. I think that's slowly going to happen," said Miller.
Opponents of the medical aid in dying law say they want to see the conversation expand to other options that don’t involve taking one’s life, such as hospice and palliative care.