December 2003 Home   Newsletters

February 2004

March 2004

Planning Meeting Discusses Transit, Finances and Density
Want More People Voting? (Arlene Ellis)
Death with Dignity Proposed Legislation (Lisa Keala Carter)


In the past, individual members of the League of Women Voters have supported a Death With Dignity law by writing testimony and trying to influence policy makers. The proposed law would allow a competent and terminally ill adult the right to ask a physician to write a prescription for a dose of medication that could be used to hasten death.

A Death With Dignity law is really about personal choice. Anyone opposed to it is under no obligation to participate. This includes physicians, pharmacists and healthcare facilities. Provided the safe guards have been followed, the physician is immune from civil or criminal liability and no contract of insurance or annuity can be invalidated.

Public support in Hawaii is over 70%, and a recent survey conducted by Dr. Robert Nathanson, past president and a co-founder of Hospice Hawaii, has shown that support among physicians is similarly in the 70% range.

Yet despite high public support .there is a possibility the bill will not be heard during the 2004 session. Several legislators have already said they don't want to tackle a "political hot potato" in an election year, and pressure is mounting from special interest groups opposed to assisted-dying for religious reasons.

The bill specifically prohibits lethal injection or mercy killing and only the patient him or herself can self-administer the medication. Because the patient can rescind the request at anytime the choice to hasten death remains solely in the patient's control.

To protect against abuse, numerous safeguards have been built into the proposed law. These include a second medical opinion, two oral requests initiated by the patient and separated by a minimum 15 day waiting period, a third written request witnessed by two parties personally known to the patient, and mandatory counseling on reasonable alternatives to a hastened death.

In Oregon, where assisted-dying has been legal for over five years, only a small number of people actually use the law. During the first five years, 129 patients chose to hasten their death out of 42,274 deaths from similar underlying diseases. When compared against total deaths over the same period, the figure was 0.09% (less than a tenth of a percent).

But the secondary benefits of the law are perhaps more impressive. Of the physicians surveyed following enactment of the law, 30% reported that they had increased their hospice referrals, 76% reported making efforts to improve their knowledge of pain medication, 69% reported efforts to improve recognition of psychiatric disorders including depression, and 79% reported their confidence in prescribing pain medication had improved. Additionally, the use of medical morphine, considered the "gold standard" for relieving pain in end stage cancers, increased by 70%.

Even if a Death With Dignity law is not something you would personally want to use, if you believe that competent, terminally ill adults who are suffering should have the right to make their own end-of-life choices according to their own beliefs and values, please contact your legislators, especially those members of the Senate Health Committee, and tell them you want the bill to be heard.

Lisa Keala Carter,
Death With Dignity volunteer organizer
Ph. 222-2770 or email at:

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