Hawaii House tables physician-assisted suicide bill

Comes a week after New Mexico Senate rejects similar proposal

By Dave Andrusko

(Image: Hawaii News Now)

Citing a “lack of specifics” and the absence of safeguards to protect vulnerable people, the seven-member Hawaii House Health Committee tabled a “Death with Dignity” bill.

Thursday’s conclusion in the committee on the Senate Bill 1129 was exactly the opposite of the state Senate’s embrace of the “Medical Aid in Dying Bill” where it passed easily. The vote came two days after supporters and opponents testified for three hours.

“We’re concerned about safeguards, the record-keeping, the physician training to be able to do this prescribing for aid in dying,” said House Health Committee chair Della Au Bellati.

“It literally said you could pick it [a prescription for lethal drugs] up from the pharmacy, do it at home, and it didn’t even mandate that someone had to be present and you had to do it in a private place,” said Rep. Andria Tupola, according to Hawaii News Now.

As is so often the case, the opposition of physicians was paramount. According to reporter Wayne Yoshioka of Hawaii Public Radio

Hawaii 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.”

Sen. Karl Rhoads, the bill’s sponsor, insisted that the bill “the committee shot down had more safeguards” than the version he had introduced; that assisted suicide really wasn’t “a controversial issue” in Hawaii: and that “my guess is eventually we will pass something.”

In addition to the three hours of testimony, there was nearly 600 pages of testimony submitted. House Health Committee Chair Della Au Belatti, said she was holding the bill in committee, meaning there would be no further consideration this session.

According to Yoshioka, Belatti said, “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.

She concluded, “It’s just that this time, this is not the bill to move. So with that, this measure is deferred.”

The victory in Hawaii comes just a little over a week after the New Mexico state Senate defeated Senate Bill 252, which also would have legalized physicians to “assist” in a patient’s suicide.

Commenting on the outcome, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith wrote, “Mass legalization of assisted suicide is not inevitable. Now, after losing recently in New Mexico, add Hawaii to the ‘not inevitable’ list.”