Hawaii law allowing medically assisted suicide takes effect

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s new medically assisted suicide law has gone into effect, but few doctors and pharmacies are willing to prescribe and dispense the life-ending medications.

Hawaii Pacific Health and The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu said their pharmacies will not fill the prescriptions and hospitalized patients will not be able to take the lethal drugs on their campuses, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The law allows doctors to fulfill requests from terminally ill patients for prescription medication that will allow them to die.

The law’s restrictions require two health care providers to confirm a patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, ability to make decisions and that the request is voluntary. Patients must make three requests for the medication, voicing two at least 20 days apart and writing the third signed by two witnesses.

Most health care facilities have adopted neutral policies on the law, leaving it up to individual doctors to decide whether to participate.

“There are a number of health care providers, nurses and others who are really uncomfortable about this, so asking anybody to participate as a patient ends their life is a really tough thing,” said Melinda Ashton, chief quality officer for Hawaii Pacific Health, one of the state’s largest health care providers. “The most recent barrier does seem to be we haven’t yet located a pharmacy willing to provide the medication.”

CVS Pharmacy said pharmacists in Hawaii will follow a “carefully outlined process for the filling of such prescriptions under the limited circumstances” defined by law. Individual pharmacists will decide whether to fill the prescriptions, the company said.

Physicians might be resistant to the law at first, said Dr. Daniel Fischberg, medical director of the Queen’s Medical Center Pain and Palliative Care Department.

“There’s definitely diversity of opinion. A minority of physicians feel prepared to actually participate in terms of writing a prescription,” Fischberg said.

The state Department of Health projects that 40 to 70 patients will seek medical aid in dying this year. Care providers and the state Health Department are offering training sessions to medical personnel on how to handle requests for life-ending medication.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com


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