Blog Post

Hawaii Legalizes Assisted Suicide

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Hawaii’s Governor David Ige (D) signed a new law into force that will allow terminally ill patients to end their lives by assisted suicide.

The Hill is reporting on the event, which makes Hawaii the sixth state in the U.S. to allow assisted suicide. The measure allows a doctor to prescribe lethal medication to mentally capable patients who have less than six months to live.

“It is time for terminally ill, mentally competent Hawaii residents who are suffering to make their own end-of-life choices with dignity, grace and peace,” Ige said at a signing ceremony.

So-called “safeguards” have been built into the law that are supposed to protect people from abuse. These include a requirement that two doctors confirm that a patient is terminally ill with less than six months to live. Patients will be required to put their request in writing with two witnesses, with at least one witness not being a beneficiary of the patient’s estate. The patient will then have to wait 20 days before receiving their lethal prescription. Doctors who prescribe the drugs are also required to inform the patient of alternatives such as pain management and hospice care.

What the public is not being made aware of, however, is how easily these safeguards are being abused in other states where assisted suicide is legal.

For example, not allowing witnesses to be beneficiaries is easily gotten around.

“One of the witnesses may be a family member with a financial or emotional incentive to see the patient die, and the other may simply be a friend willing to affirm that judgment,” writes Ryan Anderson for The Heritage Foundation about a similar provision in Washington DC’s assisted suicide law.

It’s also important to note that patients are/or their guardians can shop around for willing doctors who are willing to say that the patient is capable, acting freely, and likely to die within six months. In fact, according to research from Richard Doeflinger, advocacy groups such as Compassion and Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society, keep a list of “friendly” doctors.

“C&C has boasted of its direct involvement in the vast majority of such cases in Oregon, as it has its own list of doctors who are willing and able to get patients around any pesky “safeguards.” If the patient’s own physician, or the next physician, discovers a disorder such as depression, the patient can simply shop around to find one who won’t care (or just call C&C in the first place),” Doeflinger writes in Flirting with Death.

For that matter, determining when someone will die is far from an exact science. Doeflinger refers to these prognoses as being “notoriously unreliable” even in the best of circumstances. “Every year, tens of thousands of people whose six-month life expectancy qualified them for hospice care outlive that prediction. And some people who ‘qualified’ for assisted suicide in Oregon, but didn’t end up taking the drugs, have lived much longer than six months.”

Hawaii will now join Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado and the District of Columbia as the only U.S. states who have passed similar assisted suicide laws. While Montana allows doctors to prescribe end-of-life drugs, this is only due to a 2009 ruling by the state Supreme Court in which justices determined that there was nothing in the state law to bar physicians from doing so. Efforts by advocates and opponents are currently underway to enact new laws that will allow assisted suicide or make it illegal in the state.

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