The assisted-suicide initiative didn’t even get enough signatures in South Dakota to make its petition worth submitting last fall. Attorney General Marty Jackley even snuck some anti-assisted suicide language into a tough-on-meth bill (2018 SB 65*) that appears to increase the criminal penalty for providing drugs that help people end their lives.
But yesterday, Hawaii became the sixth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, as Governor David Ige signed Hawaii’s House Bill 2739**, a measure similar to the failed measure circulated last year here and to laws allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives in five other states. The bill passed 39–12*** in the Hawaii House and 23–2 in the Hawaii Senate. The ayes included several lawmakers who’ve changed their minds since the Hawaii Legislature rejected assisted-suicide legislation in 2002:
Donna Mercado Kim and J. Kalani English were among the 14 senators opposed. Both voted for a similar measure, House Bill 2739, that passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Thursday. Gov. David Ige has said he will sign it into law.
Views change over time, shaped by personal experiences, public opinion, conversations with constituents and stronger legislation, according to interviews with lawmakers and others who have been tracking the issue for years.
“I think more and more people are coming to terms with it,” Kim said Wednesday. “As the population ages, they’ve been caregiving for their parents and relatives and just seeing all the technology to keep people alive, unlike before, and see people suffering” [Nathan Eagle, “Medical Aid in Dying: A Long Journey from No to Yes for These Lawmakers,” Honolulu Civil Beat, 2018.03.29].
Senator Kim practices Catholicism but told Eagle, “As a legislator I’ve always said I have to put my personal beliefs aside.” Another Catholic legislator, Rep. John Mizuno, found Christian reasons to support the bill:
He was influenced by the landmark 1954 segregation case, Brown v. Board of Education; the 1965 Voting Rights Act, about equal rights to the ballot box; and the 1973 abortion case, Roe v. Wade.
“Those are things that started to change the tide for me,” Mizuno said. “Nationally, this is a defining civil rights struggle. To my Christian brothers and sisters, I can defend it.”
He described the Catholics in his district and dozens, if not hundreds, of others who have come out against physician-assisted dying on religious grounds as “kind” and “loving” people. But he said even some Catholics are breaking with the church.
“I tried to look through scripture and even if you talk about Jesus suffering on the cross, the Lord took him early,” Mizuno said. “That’s compassionate care” [Eagle, 2018.03.29].
A Gallup Poll last May found 73% of Americans support euthanasia.
*Legal Grammar Note: The text added to statute by SB 65 is terribly written. It opens with a noun phrase with a modifying dependent clause (“Any person who…”), jumps to a poorly appended independent clause (“…and another person dies…”) that is intended to serve as an additional condition but isn’t grammatically connected, then forgets to give its opening noun phrase a predicate and leaps to start a whole separate independent clause (“the sentence for the principal felony shall be enhanced…”). Governor Daugaard should have style-and-formed SB 65!
**Awesome Participatory Democracy Note: The Hawaii Legislature’s bill webpages include a button to “Submit Testimony.” Users have to sign in—no anonymous testimony, just like in committee—and all submissions are posted for public viewing. South Dakota’s Legislative website includes no such public testimony option.
Plus, Hawaii’s House Journals include transcripts of member floor speeches, whereas South Dakota’s Legislative Journals only include motions and votes.
***Reservations: Hawaii’s legislators can vote “aye with reservations.” Four of the House ayes and four of the Senate ayes were with reservations.