A large, well-funded national organization calling itself "Compassion & Choices" has been taking out print ads and airing TV commercials that claim that doctors in Hawaii are providing lethal doses of medication to individuals who desire "aid in dying."  According to the ads and commercials, this is perfectly legal because of a newly-discovered loophole in Hawaii law.

As it turns out, however, the ads and commercials ignore what Hawaii's chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General David Louie, has to say about this topic.  In an opinion letter dated December 8, 2011, the Attorney General addresses the questions of (1) whether section 453-1 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes (the supposed newly-discovered loophole) authorizes a physician to assist a terminally ill patient with dying, and (2) whether any criminal laws prohibit "aid in dying."

The Attorney General opines that the loophole touted by Compassion & Choices simply allows doctors to prescribe unconventional "remedial agents or measures" (i.e., medication or treatment intended to make the patient better), not cause the patient's death.  In the Attorney General's view, the law clearly does not allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication.

As to the second question, the Attorney General opines that physician-assisted suicide would constitute the crime of manslaughter.  However, proving that the crime had been committed would involve convincing a jury that the physician intended for the patient to commit suicide, and that the lethal medication prescribed by the physician accomplished its intended task.  As we all know, proving that a crime has been committed is not necessarily an easy task.  But the fact that a crime is difficult to prove does not mean that no crime was committed.  Obviously, any physician who follows Compassion & Choices' interpretation of Hawaii law could be in for serious trouble.

So don't be fooled by the commercials and ads.  Our existing hospice and palliative care (alleviating pain) physicians and services do a wonderful job of assisting the terminally ill and their families face death.  There are legitimate and compassionate ways of dealing with end of life issues that do not involve suicide or raise the prospect of euthanasia.

For more information or if you would like a copy of the Attorney General's opinion, send an email to [email protected]

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