The Hawaii Senate voted overwhelmingly this week to advance a bill permitting physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients – despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church.
Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva, above, in a recent letter to parishioners in his diocese, called the effort to legalise physician-assisted suicide as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and:
Another manifestation … of the ‘culture of death’.
Called the “Medical Aid in Dying” bill, SB 1129 passed with 22 votes in favor, three against. The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives where it will be debated and voted on in committee before going before the full body.
The proposed law would allow an adult Hawaii resident diagnosed with a terminal illness and determined to have six or fewer months to live, to request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to be self-administered to end his or her life.
SB 1129, which is based on a law in Oregon, lists a number of safeguards intended to protect patients from abuse or victimisation. These include confirmation by two physicians or advanced practice registered nurses of the patient’s:
Diagnosis, prognosis, mental competence and voluntariness of the request.
The bill also requires that the patient must give both oral and written requests for the lethal medication, witnessed by two people, and that there be waiting periods between the requests and the writing of the prescription.
In testimony against the bill, the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in Hawaii, stated that legal assisted suicide:
Can undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever alter the doctor-patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life.
The Catholic conference pointed out the incongruity of the state promoting and facilitating suicide for one group of persons, calling it “dignified and humane”, while:
Recognising suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances.
Bishop Silva countered the argument that terminal illness “diminishes” a person’s dignity or “true humanity”.
It costs a tremendous amount of time and money to care for someone who is very sick. Yet true compassion means ‘suffering with’ someone –or allowing others to suffer with us – and while it is very humbling, the most intimate bonds of human caring can be nurtured in just such circumstances.
He expressed concern that legalising assisted suicide would open the door to a “culture of euthanasia” and abuse of the elderly.
It is certainly cheaper and easier to end a life than to care for it in the midst of suffering. Will decisions be made on economic expediency? Will others around the patient, such as heirs, be more motivated to aid in the rapid demise of the patient for their own benefit? Will this be another weapon in the hands of those who already abuse the elders they care for, a problem that has become quite serious?
The suffering of others is a call to us all, not to end life by offering a lethal ‘medication’, but to care for them in love, even when it is most difficult to do so.
Testimony by Eva Andrade, President of Hawaii Family Forum, a nondenominational educational organisation, said that assisted suicide invites exploitation of vulnerable people.
It puts the poor, elderly, sick and disabled at risk for abuse no matter what the proposed safeguards. With elder abuse already a major problem in Hawaii, turning the right to die into a duty to die – creating subtle pressure on the elderly to end their lives early so as not to be a burden to their families – may very well be a consequence of this law.
Democratic state Senator Breene Harimoto, a cancer survivor, opposed the bill, saying:
We should be making laws to give people a sense of hope, not making laws that allow physicians to assist in causing death.
And he called the bill:
A misplaced sense of compassion.