Hawaii State Data on Our Care, Our Choice Act Confirms New End-of-Life Law is Working
Data in Hawaii and across the country continue to show medical aid in dying is safe, trusted end-of-life option
The Hawai‘i Department of Health released its first report today detailing usage information during the first five months of the Our Care, Our Choice Act’s implementation (Jan. 1 – May 31, 2019). The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option of medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable.
“The state’s data show that even during the early months of the law’s implementation, the law was working and terminally ill Hawai‘i residents were able to access this end of life option,” said Compassion & Choices Hawaii State Director Samantha Trad. “We are encouraged to see that the state’s first five months of data show that four unique physicians supported their patients in this compassionate end of life option, eight patients formally qualified for medical aid in dying and two of those patients peacefully ended their suffering by using the medication. We continue to work to ensure that every eligible terminally ill person in Hawaii has access to all end-of-life care options, including hospice, pain control, palliative care and medical aid in dying.”
“This has been a collaborative effort and the dedication of Hawaii’s healthcare providers to help patients and their families navigate the system has played a critical role in successfully implementing the law,” said Lorrin Kim, the Department of Health’s chief policy officer and legislative coordinator. “There is more discussion in the community about supportive care alternatives when curative treatment is no longer viable.”
Dr. Chuck Miller, one of the first doctors to prescribe under the new law, said implementation continues to make progress. “There has been improvement in patient wait times,” he said. “It took my first patient 60 days from his first request to having the prescription in hand. Now, six months later, I’m seeing patients complete the process in 21 days.” However Miller acknowledged that can be a hardship for many. “I personally had two patients die of their disease before they were able to complete the waiting period. This is not compassionate care and should be unacceptable to the people of Hawai‘i,” he said. “I look forward to the day that we can make the whole process shorter and less onerous for suffering terminally ill patients.”
Kathy Johnson, surviving spouse of 75-year-old Kailua-Kona cancer patient Steve Johnson, who utilized the law in May, expressed gratitude for the option. “There was a lot of anxiety as we were going through the process, but once Steve had the medication in hand, he was at peace. When his suffering was too much to bear, he planned the day. Our hospice nurse arrived, Steve took the medication, and we said our final goodbyes. Within 30 minutes he passed away peacefully in his sleep.” Johnson was enrolled in hospice.
Hawai‘i is one of 10 jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is or will soon be authorized (New Jersey and Maine both passed aid in dying laws this year that will go into effect later this summer). Other states that have authorized medical aid in dying include California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, together representing more than 20 percent of the nation’s population.
Compassion & Choices will continue to provide education to the public and medical professionals through its Access Campaign to ensure that every eligible terminally ill person has access to the Our Care, Our Choice Act. Educational resources for patients and providers can be found at compassionandchoices.org/hawaii/; to request a community or medical provider presentation call 808-282-8247.