Legislation to legalize medically assisted death for terminally ill adults cleared its first Senate hurdle Friday.

The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee, chaired by Sen. Roz Baker, unanimously passed House Bill 2739. There were no amendments. 

“It doesn’t require anybody to take advantage of it,” Baker said moments before the vote. “It merely gives people the choice.”

HB2739 Death with Dignity Bill senate hearing as Chair Rosalyn Baker motions second group of testifers into her small hearing room, taking couple dozen at a time.
Sen. Roz Baker shepherded the measure through her health committee with little fanfare compared to prior hearings. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The measure had cleared the House comfortably on March 6 after lawmakers added more safeguards to protect against abuse.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Taniguchi. That’s its last stop before a vote by the full Senate, which passed a similar measure last year 22-3 but that bill stalled in the House.

House Bill 2739 Safeguards

Baker kept the two-hour morning hearing moving quickly, allowing each person to testify for up to two minutes and scolding a woman early on for going past her allotted time.

The public comments delivered in person were mostly familiar arguments. There was more than 1,300 pages of written testimony.

Supporters, led by Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity groups, underscored the need to give Hawaii residents with fewer than six months to live the right to obtain prescription medication to end their lives.

“I’m a child of God, first and foremost,” said Rachel Kailianu, whose husband has leukemia. “But the reason I support this bill is because God gave us the freedom of choice.”

Critics, again wearing their “There’s No Aloha in Suicide” shirts, warned about the message this law would send to the youth about suicide and how it conflicts with conservative Christian values.

“I’m concerned about coercion,” Chris Niemchzyk told the committee.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, who serves on Baker’s committee, said before the vote that there is a separation of church and state in the constitution.

“One’s religious views are not relevant to our legislative process,” he said, adding that if someone does not believe in medical aid in dying then they simply should not do it.

Sens. Will Espero, Jill Tokuda, Clarence Nishihara and Les Ihara also voted in support of the bill. Sen. Stanley Chang, the other member of the committee, supports the bill but was absent due to a legislative commitment.

Hawaii would become the sixth state to legalize medical aid in dying, joining California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington as well as Washington, D.C.

Civil Beat Poll in late November found 63 percent of Hawaii voters supported legalizing medical aid in dying, with 22 percent opposed, 9 percent unsure and 6 percent not caring either way. Other polls have found support to be as high as 80 percent.

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