Lolita Agudelo is licensed to operate an adult foster care home out of her house in Waipahu.

One of her two patients is in his 90s, and the other one just passed away at an advanced aged.

She supports death with dignity legislation that would allow a terminally ill, competent adult to legally take life-ending medication prescribed by doctors.

“If you are dying, especially from cancer, and there is no remedy, it makes no sense to prolong the life,” said Agudelo, 76. “Just leave it like that. Dignity.”

Longtime lobbyist John Radcliffe was a high-profile advocate for aid-in-dying legislation during the 2017 session — to no avail. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Agudelo was among the 63 percent of registered Hawaii voters who said they supported medical aid in dying in the latest Civil Beat poll.

The poll asked, “If the state Legislature were to bring up a revised ‘medical aid in dying’ bill again next year, would you support or oppose it, or would it not matter to you much either way?”

Only 22 percent told Civil Beat’s pollster they oppose they idea. Another 9 percent said they were unsure and 6 percent said it didn’t matter.

“There used to be a stigma associated with it, but I think that’s largely gone,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “It’s supported across all four counties, both congressional districts, household income and education brackets.”

Consistent Support

Civil Beat’s poll, conducted Nov. 27-29, surveyed 843 registered voters statewide, 70 percent on landlines and 30 percent with cellphones. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent.

It’s the second time in six months that Civil Beat has polled on the topic.

The results in a June poll were similar: 65 percent supported medical aid in dying while 18 percent opposed.

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

All this week Civil Beat, is reporting on how registered Hawaii voters feel about controversial issues.

On Monday we reported that a strong majority of respondents want to hold a constitutional convention. Tuesday’s article showed similar enthusiasm for term limits and statewide citizen initiatives, while a plurality backed a switch to all-mail voting.

Coming Thursday is our poll on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use, and Friday on whether to allow a lottery.

Contentious, And Emotional

Few issues are more contentious and emotional than medical aid in dying.

While it easily passed the Hawaii State Senate earlier this year, it stalled in the House Health Committee without a vote.

Some representatives said the legislation lacked detailed safeguards for the public and for physician training. There was heavy lobbying on both sides of the issue, and opponents prevailed.

Because it was deferred, Senate Bill 1129 could be revived in the 2018 legislative session, which begins next month.

The bill states:

An adult who is capable, is a resident of the State, and has been determined by the attending provider and consulting provider to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed the adult’s wish to die, may make a written request for medication that the adult may self-administer for the purpose of ending the adult’s life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with this chapter.

SB 1129 was modeled on Oregon’s death with dignity statute, which has been in effect for 20 years. Similar laws are in effect in California, Colorado, Vermont and Washington state.

Thrilled, And Doubtful

One of the bill’s major supporters is Mary Steiner of the nonprofit Compassion & Choices Hawaii, and she welcomed the new polling data.

“We are  thrilled that the numbers continue to reflect Hawaii residents’ overwhelming support of medical aid in dying,” she said. “The statewide demand for access to medical aid in dying has only grown over the last two decades as people become more aware of their right to patient autonomy and to a full spectrum of end of life care.”

Steiner said the Hawaii bill has “multiple safeguards” in place.

“In 20 years of practice in Oregon, there has not been a single reported case of abuse, hospice awareness is on the rise, and terminally ill residents are comforted by the knowledge that this option is available to them should they need it,” she said. “In short, the law works as intended.”

Steiner lamented that people “are still suffering in Hawaii. That’s why we remain hopeful that lawmakers this session will meaningfully consider a bill on its proven merits, and pass it.”

Mary Steiner Compassion and Choices2. 13 may 2016
Mary Steiner says Oregon’s longtime death with dignity law “works as intended.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But Eva Andrade, president of a top adversary of the legislation — the nonprofit Hawaii Family Forum — is doubtful the bill will be resurrected.

Told about the Civil Beat Poll, Andrade said, “My first thought is to say that supporting the legislation before actually reading the bill would cause great concern. I do believe that once people really understand assisted suicide, we believe they would say no to it.”

If the Legislature does take the matter up again, however, Andrade said, “We would do everything in our power to make sure that it does not move, because we believe strongly that if it becomes law there will be abuse, coercion and possible neglect or our elderly.”

The Civil Beat Poll Dec. 2017 — Death With Dignity:

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