Hawaii lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that would make it the latest state to legalize medically assisted suicide. The state Senate voted 23-2 to pass the measure that had already cleared the House. It allows doctors to prescribe medication to terminally ill patients that will allow them to die.
The governor has said he will sign the bill, which would make Hawaii the sixth state to legalize the practice, plus Washington, D.C. The legislation includes safeguards intended to prevent abuse, but opponents said it puts the poor, elderly, sick and disabled at risk. Lawmakers heard hours of impassioned testimony from advocates and opponents.
The safeguards require that two health care providers confirm a patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, ability to make decisions and that they voluntarily made the request. A counselor also must determine that the patient is capable and does not appear to be suffering from a lack of treatment of depression.
The patient must make two oral requests for the medication, with a 20-day waiting period between each. They also must sign a written request witnessed by two people, one of whom can’t be a relative. Some see the choice as a logical evolution in a medical system that is advanced in helping people live longer but limited in preventing slow, painful deaths.
Critics say they are concerned that the option will lead to hasty decisions, misdiagnoses and waning support for palliative care, in which dying people can be sedated to relieve suffering.