Hawaii legalises assisted suicide

Hawaii has become the seventh American jurisdiction where assisted-suicide is legal. The “Our Care, Our Choice Act” passed  the Hawaii House of Representatives on a 39-12 vote on March 6, and cleared the Senate on a vote of 23-2 last week. Governor David Inge signed the bill last Thursday. “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,” he said.

Under the provisions of the new law, the terminally ill may get a prescription for a lethal drug so long as two doctors agree that the patient has no more than six months to live and is mentally competent. He would also need to undergo a mental health evaluation; two separate requests should be made to an attending provider (who could be a nurse, not a doctor); and two witnesses must attest to the patient’s wish to die. Although a doctor could dispense the medication, patients would be required to take it on their own. The patient’s family need not be informed of his decision.

Since 1997, the legislatures of Hawaii, Oregon, Washington state, California, Colorado, Vermont and the District of Columbia have passed laws permitting assisted suicide. In Montana, a court decision found that it was legal, but there has been no legislation.

The new law follows the controversial Oregon model. One of the drawbacks of this legislation is its definition of "terminal illness". It is usually understood to be a condition which will lead to death withinn six months or a year. But if a patient decides to spurn all treatment, treatment which could keep them alive for years, his or her illness will automatically become "terminal". This is a flimsy basis for law which purports to protect human dignity but at the same time allows doctors to help them die. 

In the same time, it should be noted, ten American states have passed laws explicitly banning assisted suicide. The latest was Utah, where the criminal code was clarified to include assisted suicide. It was prompted by a gruesome case in which 18-year-old Tyerell Przybycien helped 16-year-old Jchandra Brown to hang herself and filmed her last moments. 

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 


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