The Hawaii Senate voted 23-2 to approve the bill, which has already passed the state House. The legislation now goes to Governor David Ige, who has already indicated he will sign it.
The proposed law allows doctors to prescribe medication to help patients die. The patients must be diagnosed with a terminal illness and have six months or less to live.
Lawmakers heard four hours of impassioned testimony on both sides of the debate, with advocates saying it will help ease the suffering of those living with unbearable pain. Opponents say the law may lead to abuse of the sick and elderly.
“If HB 2739 becomes law, doctors and nurses would be granted civil and criminal immunity,” said Hawaii Family Forum, one of the most vocal opponents of the law. “They just need to document their actions were in accordance with the law and they put forth a good faith effort to comply with all of the law’s requirements. It’s a free get-out-of-jail card. This does not protect patients and families.”
Advocates say patients need the option and point to the numerous safeguards to prevent abuse.
“There is no reason to deny others the freedom to live and die as we choose,” said Sen. Russell Ruderman.
In order to comply with the new law, a patient must have diagnoses and approval from two health care providers. The patient must then make two separate in-person oral requests for the life-ending medication and sign a written request in the presence of two people, one of whom cannot be a relative.
An independent counselor must also testify that the patient is not suffering from depression or other similar mental ailments and is competent to make decisions for themselves.
Medically assisted deaths are legal in five states and the District of Columbia. Oregon was the first state to legalize it in 1997, and California, Colorado, Vermont and Washington state also allow the practice.
In Montana, the state Supreme Court effectively decriminalized medically assisted suicide in 2009 when it ruled doctors could use patients’ request to die as evidence in any potential criminal trials.
The measure has passed in relatively liberal leaning states, while many religious groups adamantly oppose the measures as unnatural.
In Hawaii, 71 percent of voters approve of the practice according to a recent poll by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.