House Health Committee Stops Medical Aid in Dying Bill

Mar 23, 2017

Legislative lobbyist John Radcliffe testifies before the House Health Committee
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The bill to allow medical aid in dying was stopped in a House Committee today.  HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

People on both sides of the compassion issue packed the standing room only House Health Committee hearing on Senate Bill 1129.  The proposed measure would establish a medical aid in dying act.  

Legislative lobbyist, John Radcliffe, a terminally-ill cancer patient has led the call for patient choice.

“I’m here to testify for Justice for Doctors and by doing so permit already terminally ill adult patients with less than six months to live, like myself, and who are mentally competent, like myself, to control the time and place of their own death without having their physician  face criminal charges and sanctions.”

But, Hawai’i medical doctors testified in opposition of the bill.  Dr. Daniel Fischberg, a physician specializing in palliative medicine and a medical school professor, says not only terminally ill cancer patients would receive medical aid in dying.

“The majority of patients with a serious desire for life-ending medication do have a serious depression and most non-psychiatrists, like myself, will miss more cases than we detect.  And that’s just a fact.  If this bill becomes a law, I can one-hundred percent guarantee that depressed patients with treatable depression will be getting lethal drugs to end their life.”

Dr. Thomas Cook, a psychiatrist representing Advocates for the Mentally Ill, says medical aid in dying is a slippery slope exemplified in other jurisdictions.

“You can have assisted suicide for Anorexia, Autism and other conditions in Belgium and The Netherlands.  And that’s the direction they’re headed to include psyc patients and according to the logic of the bill, it makes more sense to include.  Psychiatric patients suffer a lot.  That’s why they kill themselves at young ages.”

The bill also specifies the terminal illness and not life-ending medication can be entered as an official cause of death.  Dr. Rae Seitz, a palliative and Hospice physician, supports medical aid in dying as an option but is concerned about its implementation in a safe and effective way.

“How are we gonna make sure that people know what  they’re doing and can do it well.  How do we involve the pharmacist, the nurses, the social workers, the other health care providers who are necessary to get this done.”

But, Compassion and Choice Hawai’i Campaign Manager, Mary Steiner, says their goal is to authorize medical aid in dying as a healthcare option.

“Medical Aid in Dying is not suicide.  Suicide involves people who are severely depressed and they no longer want to live.   Medical aid in dying involves individuals who want to live but they can’t.   They’re dying and they’re dying soon.”

Following 3 hours of public testimony and nearly 600 pages of submitted testimony, House Health Committee Chair, Della Au Belatti, said she is holding the bill in committee, stopping further consideration of the matter this session.

“People needed to have this discussion; we’ve had it; we’re going to have to balance the right to choose and our deeds and obligations to protect those who are the most vulnerable.  It’s just that this time, this is not the bill to move.   So with that, this measure is deferred and we’re adjourned on the 8-thirty agenda.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.