Monday, December 26, 2011

AG Rejects Claim That Assisted Suicide is "Already Legal"

By Margaret Dore, December 26, 2011

On December 8, 2011, the Hawaii Attorney General issued a formal opinion rejecting a claim by suicide proponents that assisted suicide is "already legal" due to a 1909 statute.  The opinion, requested by Hawaii State Senator Joshua Green, MD, has now been publicly released.   The opinion not only rejects the proponents' claim, but affirmatively states that a physician who assists a suicide "could be charged under Hawaii’s manslaughter statute. . . ."  The opinion states:

"Dear Senator Green:


Re: Hawaii law on assistance with dying

You have asked (1) whether [the 1909 statute,] §453-1, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS), authorizes a physician to assist a terminally ill patient with dying when requested by or on behalf of the patient, and (2) whether any criminal laws prohibit aid in dying.

We are assuming that a physician’s assistance with dying would consist of prescribing a lethal dose of medication that a terminally ill patient could take to bring on a swifter and possibly more peaceful death than would otherwise ensue. Our analysis addresses only this method of assistance. Briefly, (1) we do not believe that §453-1 provides authority for a physician to assist with dying, and (2) a physician who provided such assistance could be charged under Hawaii’s manslaughter statute. . . ."

To view the entire opinion, click here.

In Hawaii, a doctor or other person who causes or fails to prevent a suicide can also be subjected to civil liability, generally in a custodial situation.   See e.g., Schwenke v. Outrigger Hotels, 122 Hawai'i 389, 392 (2010).