Hawaii Holds Hearing on Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   Steven Ertelt   Feb 7, 2011   |   6:19PM    Honolulu, HI

The Hawaii legislature today is holding a hearing on a bill that would make the island state the third to officially legalize assisted suicide. The measure would have it join Washington and Oregon to legalize the practice and Montana has began the process of moving in that direction.

The measure, SB 803, would allow a terminally ill patients to receive a lethal cocktail in a prescription from a physician that would be used to kill themselves.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he supports the bill and wants to find a way to support people dealing with end-of-life decisions, though he didn’t mention whether he has first tried to help them with pain control or dealing with mental health issues like depression before deciding to utilize death as a solution.

“I’m very sensitive to the concerns of everyone involved in this issue — from those suffering with terminal conditions and their families, to those who provide them with medical care,” he told the newspaper. “We need to find a way to support those dealing with end-of-life decisions with the greatest possible compassion and respect.”

This is the third time the committee has held a hearing on bills to legalize assisted suicide — as hearing son bills in 2005 and 2007 ended with lawmakers voting down the measure. Although the bill lost 6-1 last time, Green says the turnover in the legislature makes it so he believes it should get a fresh hearing and vote.

The state Senate voted on the bill in 2002 and defeated it 14-11 after a lengthy and contentious hearing.

The bill prohibits active euthanasia and allows alternative doctors to prescribe the lethal drugs when a patient’s own physician declines to do so.

The Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Right to Life both strongly oppose the legislation.

“Acceptance of doctor‐assisted suicide sends the message that some lives are not worth living. Social acceptance of doctor‐assisted suicide tells elderly, disabled and dependent citizens that their lives are not valuable. Doctors who list death by assisted suicide among the medical options for a terminally or chronically ill patient communicate hopelessness, not compassion,” the latter group said in a factsheet.

The group continued:  “The practice of doctor‐assisted suicide creates a duty to die. Escalating health‐care costs, coupled with a growing elderly population, set the stage for an American culture eager to embrace alternatives to expensive, long‐term medical care. The so‐called “right to die” may soon create a dangerous “duty to die” that leads our senior, disabled, and depressed family members into being pressured or coerced into ending their lives. Death may become a less expensive substitute for treatment and care as medical costs continue to rise.”