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Lawmakers Need to Pass a Bill to Allow Aid in Dying

By David Shapiro Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, February 12, 2017

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A friend bedridden by severe irreversible disease developed badly infected pressure sores.

Facing prolonged hospital infection care that wouldn’t change the underlying disease that was rapidly progressing, she decided to go home and let sepsis take its course.

A seriously ill acquaintance, who had lost all independence and comfort as she awaited the end, took matters into her own hands by refusing food and water.

Two points resonated:

>> The right to end their suffering already exists for Hawaii’s terminally ill, who can legally decline treatment including feeding and hydration.

>> How cruel it is that sound-minded people making informed personal choices must resort to inhumane means of death when Hawaii could join six states that allow the hopelessly suffering to obtain from doctors lethal prescriptions that bring a dignified and peaceful end.

It’s time our Legislature enacts one of several bills introduced to extend this compassion, which has growing acceptance nationally and public support locally.

Hawaii lawmakers have debated medical aid in dying since 2002, when a bill passed the House 30-10, but fell two votes short in the Senate.

Then, Oregon’s pioneering death-with-dignity law was only five years old and abuse was feared.

But now Oregon has nearly two decades of experience, five other states have followed suit, and we’ve not seen the widespread abuse opponents predicted.

In the first 18 years in Oregon, only 1,545 terminal patients received lethal prescriptions and only 991 used them; for many gravely ill, the comfort is simply knowing the option is there if they need it.

Major opponents are religious groups that believe life is sacred, some doctors who believe it violates their Hippocratic oath and organizations representing the disabled and elderly, who fear insurance companies and overburdened family will turn the right to die into a duty to die.

Religious objectors have every right not to avail themselves of medical aid in dying, and non-believing doctors can hand off to colleagues, but neither has the right to force their beliefs on others.

Oregon’s death with dignity hasn’t become euthanasia as critics feared, and with diligent monitoring by both public agencies and skeptical doctors and advocacy groups, Hawaii’s wouldn’t either.

Since Hawaii advocates base their case on the success of Oregon’s law, a Hawaii law should closely model Oregon’s safeguards against abuse.

Key among these are a 15-day waiting period, patient counseling on comfort options and certification by two physicians that the patient has less than six months to live, is mentally and psychologically able to make an informed decision, and is not being coerced by others.

Physicians don’t administer the drug; patients must ingest it themselves.

Polls show most of us wish the choice for ourselves when our time comes. How can we deny it to suffering souls whose time is here?