House approves controversial medical aid-in-dying bill, sending it to Senate

Published: Mar. 6, 2018 at 5:03 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2018 at 12:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a robust debate Tuesday, the full House approved a controversial medical aid-in-dying measure, sending the bill to the Senate.

The House voted 39-12 to pass the measure, and members on both sides of the issue shared personal experiences with pain and lost loved ones.

State Rep. Sam Kong says he's been living with chronic pain since having major surgery back in 2014. While he's not terminally ill, he says its important for people who are suffering to hear words of hope.

"I don't want to hear from you, 'Oh give it up, Sam.' I want to hear a message saying, 'Please make it one more day.' It's so difficult for us," said Rep. Kong, D-Aiea.

State Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who supports the bill, spoke about the loss of her father and brother.

"In the end, when they could no longer walk and take care of themselves, both wanted the choice to die with dignity. This bill is about giving people a choice," said Rep. Nakamura, D-Hanalei, Kapaa, and Wailua.

It's likely to jet through the Senate, which overwhelmingly approved a similar bill last year.

The measure, House Bill 2739, allows a physician to prescribe life-ending medication to a terminally ill, but 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.

Supporters say the bill has some of the strongest safeguards in the nation, but critics say they want more to improve enforcement and prevent abuse.

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.

"We are praying it's not over yet until its over," said Tarita Tehotu, who opposes the measure.

But supporters said the lawmakers listened to their need for choice.

"People have their own morality. They have their church, they have their ethics and that's fine. Why should I or anyone else have to live by that?" said Malachy Grange, who came out to back the measure.

So far, six states have legalized medical aid-in-dying.

But other states have pushed back against the similar measures. In 2017, 27 states considered aid-in-dying bills and none passed, CNN has reported.

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