Nearly two-thirds of Hawaii voters who responded to The Civil Beat Poll want the Legislature to pass a bill next year to legalize medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults.

Legislators came close to taking that action during their last session, which ended May 4, but a House committee chaired by Rep. Della Au Belatti killed the measure without allowing a vote in the House after it had cleared the full Senate on a 22-3 vote. Most House members would not say where they stood on the issue.

Of the 956 registered voters polled, 65 percent supported medical aid in dying— also known as death with dignity or physician-assisted suicide — while 18 percent opposed it.

Members of the Compassion & Choices group wore shirts showing their support for medical aid in dying legislation during the last session. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2017

Only 5 percent said the issue did not matter to them and 11 percent were unsure.

Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted the poll, said it now appears “inevitable” that Hawaii will eventually legalize medical aid in dying.

How We Did It

“It’s not a question of if. It’s just a question of when,” Fitch said. “At some point the Legislature is going to be moved to act on it.”

A 2012 poll by Civil Beat found 56 percent of Hawaii voters were in favor of physician-assisted suicide, as it was commonly called at the time.

The latest poll showed notable differences in the levels of support for medical aid in dying among ethnic groups.

Support was strongest among white respondents at 76 percent, followed by Japanese at 70 percent.

There were 58 percent of Chinese respondents in support, followed by Filipinos at 57 percent, Hispanics at 56 percent and Hawaiians at 54 percent. Respondents who identified as “other” or “mixed” were 56 percent in support.

Opposition was strongest among Hispanics and Filipinos at 33 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Hawaii’s Hispanic population is small but its Filipino population is now the second-largest ethnic group. Both are predominantly Catholic and the church does not support medical aid in dying.

Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death with Dignity organization, has blamed the Catholic Church for pressuring House lawmakers to oppose the bill to legalize medical aid in dying.

Death with Dignity, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing medical aid in dying laws to give individuals an end-of-life option, has touted a Stanford University poll that found 77 percent of Hawaii residents supported the legislation.

Another nonprofit, Compassion & Choices Hawaii, which focuses on the entire spectrum of end-of-life choice, including aid in dying, has pushed a poll it commissioned in December that found even broader support, 80 percent.

Fitch said he sees the Catholic church’s influence waning and underscored that Hawaii’s population is rapidly aging. He said as more people are touched by loved ones suffering at the end of life, more people will want to have medical aid in dying as an option.

“Dying with dignity is a safety net,” he said.

“It’s not a question of if. It’s just a question of when. At some point the Legislature is going to be moved to act on it.” — Matt Fitch, pollster

Poll results show people 50 or older were more supportive than those under age 50, with 68 percent in favor compared to 63 percent.

More males were in support than females, 73 percent compared to 60 percent.

The poll also suggested that the older one gets, the more likely they will know where they stand on the issue. For respondents under 50, 17 percent were undecided, but only 9 percent of those 50 or older were unsure.

Liberals and Democrats were far more likely to support medical aid in dying than respondents identifying as conservative or Republican.

Support was highest on the neighbor islands, ranging from 68 percent to 74 percent. Rural Oahu had 56 percent in favor and urban Oahu came in at 65 percent.

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