Medical aid in dying measure advances

A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to obtain medical assistance with ending their lives advanced Tuesday at the state Capitol in Honolulu.

House Bill 2739, otherwise known as the Our Care, Our Choice Act, now will go before the Senate after lawmakers in the House voted 42-9 in favor of the measure.

The bill allows mentally capable adults who have been determined to have no more than six months to live to obtain a prescription for a medication that would painlessly end their lives.

The measure’s latest version includes additional safeguards from abuse or mismanagement, with patients required to submit two oral requests for the prescription 20 days apart — an earlier draft specified 15 days — removing the authority of “advanced practiced registered nurses” to prescribe such medication, requiring counseling for all qualified patients and more.

The bill highlights a contentious issue. More than 1,300 pages of testimony were presented during a hearing last week, with hundreds of residents and organizations voicing their support or opposition.

“For me, it’s an issue of personal freedom and liberty,” said Rep. Chris Todd, D-Hilo, who co-sponsored the bill. “My perspective is that we shouldn’t restrict individual choice unless we can prove it’s harmful to society. This is a choice that only affects one person.”

Todd, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last fall before undergoing an orchiectomy, said he was recently forced to confront his own mortality.

“It got me thinking about my own dignity at the end of life,” he said. “It’s easy to have empathy for people who have to make that decision.”

“If I or a loved one is suffering, I wouldn’t want either of us to be forced to continue to suffer,” Todd said.

Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit organization devoted to end-of-life-issues, praised the advancement of the bill.

“Hawaii residents overwhelmingly support expanding end-of-life care options,” said Aubrey Hawk, communications officer of Compassion and Choices Hawaii. “While most terminally ill will never opt for medical aid in dying, they want the option because it provides comfort to those in the end stages of a terminal disease knowing that if their suffering becomes unbearable they can use this option to die peacefully in their sleep. By advancing the Our Care, Our Choice Act, the House has shown a commitment to improving end-of-life care for all kamaaina because these laws spur people to discuss all their end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care, and to utilize them more effectively.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com