Terminal cancer patient and medical aid-in-dying advocate John Radcliffe, today went on record as Hawaiʻi’s first individual to request a prescription for aid-in-dying medication under a new law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
“I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll use it. I’m just so thankful that my doctors and my hospital system are honoring my decision and helping me navigate the process,” said Radcliffe, who was instrumental in getting the law passed last year. “I realize it might not be as smooth a process for many of my fellow Hawai’i residents who are dying. I intend to use my remaining days to help ensure access for those who need it,” said Radcliffe who is a Kaiser member.
Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i announced the news at a press conference today and applauded the Hawai‘i Department of Health for its statewide preparation and guidance for providers and patients.
Signed into law on April 5, 2018, by Governor David Ige, the Our Care, Our Choice Act authorizes medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option to end what advocates call “unbearable suffering.” It is the medical practice which gives terminally ill adults with a prognosis of six months or fewer to live, and who are mentally capable of making their own healthcare decisions, the option of requesting from their doctor a prescription for medication to die peacefully in their sleep.
Kat West, national director of policy & programming for Compassion & Choices, which has been conducting a statewide, multi-lingual, volunteer-led Access Campaign since the law was signed, said, “I’m pleased to report that Hawai’i is ahead of most other states at this stage of the law’s implementation. Already numerous medical provider education events have occurred and more are planned for doctors and other providers; and most healthcare systems/facilities are adopting policies of engaged neutrality that honors patient end-of-life decision-making.”
West continued, “We encourage residents, no matter which island they reside on, to have conversations with their doctors now about whether their doctor would support them if they were to become terminally ill and request medical aid in dying. We know from experience it is only way that residents can ensure that they will get the care they want at the end of life.”
The Hawai’i Department of Health website provides a patient request form and doctor guidelines, emphasizing the importance of enrolling in hospice as part of end-of-life care. The department website also links to Compassion & Choices comprehensive resources for Hawai‘i residents and providers. The Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i website will soon contain a Find Care Tool, the only public resource listing all the medical facilities, medical groups, and hospices that have adopted a policy supportive of patient end-of-life choice.
Dr. Charles Miller, board certified physician in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hematology, announced that he will serve as medical aid-in-dying attending physician for Kaiser Permanente Hawai‘i patients through the end of the year and will mentor colleagues on this compassionate end-of-life medical practice. Kaiser has also created a patient navigator role and contracted with a psychologist to give a mandatory third mental health consultation required only by the Hawaiʻi law.
Several current and former lawmakers who championed the issue were in attendance at today’s press event, with remarks made by Representative Della Au Belatti.