Hawaii Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Quickly Defeated

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 8, 2011   |   12:36PM   |   Honolulu, HI

No sooner did a bill to make Hawaii the third state to officially legalize assisted suicide receive a hearing than it was tabled in committee, essentially killing the legislation.

The measure would have had it join Washington and Oregon to legalize the practice and Montana has began the process of moving in that direction thanks to a state Supreme Court decision.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Josh Green held an emotional five-hour-long hearing yesterday on the legislation, SB 803, which would allow terminally ill patients to receive a lethal cocktail in a prescription from a physician that would they would use to kill themselves. Most of the testimony came from pro-life groups, doctors, elderly, and disabled people who strongly opposed the measure.

The panel took a vote on the bill following the hearing and tabled the legislation. The committee could vote to take the bill off the table, but the vote essentially means the legislation is dead for the remainder of the session unless members of the committee vote anew to reconsider their vote yesterday.

Senators Clarence Nishihara, Roz Baker, and Chun Oakland voted to table the bill and Green did as well so he could potentially bring the bill back up for a vote. Senator(s) Maile Shimabukuro, Glenn Wakai and Sam Slom were excused from voting.

The Hawaii Family Forum, one of the groups opposing the assisted suicide measure, thanked lawmakers and those who spoke out against the bill in an email to LifeNews.com afterwards.

“We really want to thank all of you who took the time to submit testimony,” the group said. “The hearing was long and emotional, with several people openly sharing their heart-wrenching stories.”

“We truly thank ALL the people who took time out of their busy schedules to testify and especially to the people from the disability community who showed up in strong numbers to oppose this bill.  Special thank you also to the articulate members of Generation Joshua,” it added. “Please contact the members of the Senate Health Committee and thank them for their vote and their patience as they listened to all the testimony.”

Before the vote, 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 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 hearings on 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 former 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.”


Members who voted to hold the bill in committee
Senator Josh Green, Chair  |  Phone:  (808) 586-9385
Senator Clarence Nishihara  |  Phone:  (808) 586-6970
Senator Rosalyn Baker  |  Phone:  (808) 586-6070
Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland  |  Phone:  (808) 586-6130

Members Excused
Senator Maile Shimabukuro  | Phone:  (808) 586-7793
Senator Glenn Wakai  |  Phone:  (808)  586-8585
Senator Sam Slom  |  Phone:  (808) 586-8420