Our Care, Our Choice Act Part 2: Some patients are pushing to get the law changed
State Senator Breene Harimoto voted against Hawai'i's Our Care, Our Choice act.
In some states, it's known as medical aid in dying or physician assisted suicide.
"If you look up in the dictionary, the definition of suicide is intentionally ending your own life. And that's what this is," Breene Harimoto said.
The bill passed in the Legislature and became law, in order for patients to get their life-ending prescription they need to request it from their doctor on three separate occasions.
Next, they need two doctors to confirm they have six months or less to live. A third doctor needs to check their mental health and then patients wait.
According to Doctor Charles Miller, an attending physician at Kaiser, Hawaii is the only state that requires a 20-day waiting period between the oral requests. Most other states are 15 days, some are even 14, he says. Doctor Miller says the waiting period is too long.
"I think it's a good thing that it takes a while so people don't jump into this hastily," Harimoto said.
Harimoto is against changing the law, even if a change could help people like him.
65-year-old Harimoto has terminal pancreatic cancer. The deadly disease has a low survival rate and has spread to his lungs.
"The doctors actually at that time gave me one year to live. And now a year later, I'm still here, relatively healthy. And you know that's one of the basic reasons I oppose this law," Harimoto said.
John Radcliffe is also battling terminal cancer. But unlike Harimoto, Radcliffe spent years fighting to get the law passed.
"Even though I knew the law was going to cause problems, because it's poorly written in some spots, that we could fix that," Radcliffe said.
Radcliffe was the first patient to request the life-ending prescription in Hawai'i. The process should have taken 22 days, but for Radcliffe, it took 60.
Part of the delay was finding a pharmacy willing to make the lethal medication. And the other problem was the mental health evaluation he was required to get.
"I just want to articulate and journal and be able to put on paper what that experience has been like, so that legislators will think about, well maybe we should change some of these things," Radcliffe said.
Harimoto argues waiting a little while longer is a good thing. Despite his grim prognosis, he's still here.
"Doctors do the best they can, but they don't know for sure. So if you're given a year or six months to live, to me, that's almost meaningless," Harimoto said.
However, not everyone who is terminally ill has Harimoto's quality of life, according to Doctor Miller, his patients just want to die in a dignified, humane way.
"They don't want to be in hospice and get dose after dose of morphine. They want to choose when, where, how and with whom they're going to die," Dr. Miller said.
And without having to wait.