In 2018, Hawaii became the sixth state to legalize assisted suicide. The law sanctions the killing of people considered to be terminally ill who request a lethal prescription drug to end their lives. Though in effect, the law has faced an unexpected roadblock: most doctors are unwilling to participate in ending their patients’ lives.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that Hawaii Pacific Health and the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu will not fill prescriptions for assisted suicide drugs and will not allow patients to take the drugs on their campuses.
Not all hospitals have taken such a firm stance against assisted suicide. The Associated Press states, “Most health care facilities have adopted neutral policies on the law, leaving it up to individual doctors to decide whether to participate.”
According to 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.” This is not surprising considering that writing a lethal prescription for a patient would make doctors agents in their patients’ death. For many doctors, this is not a morally neutral action and not an action they view as in line with their professional oath.
Many doctors have voiced opposition to assisted suicide laws. Despite a powerful international lobby pushing assisted suicide legislation around the world for decades, only six states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the lethal action so far.
Preliminary reports suggest that most doctors and pharmacists are refusing to participate in assisted suicide in Hawaii. Melinda Ashton, chief quality officer for Hawaii Pacific Health told the AP, “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.” She added, “The most recent barrier does seem to be we haven’t yet located a pharmacy willing to provide the medication.”
The protections for individual doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in the Hawaii assisted suicide law are rare. The assisted suicide lobby and the abortion lobby often work to undermine conscience protections to make the legal killing of some human beings more readily available. When health care professionals face threats of losing their job because they do not want to participate in ending a human life, doctors and nurses are less likely to voice their concerns or act on their personal moral convictions.
If assisted suicide laws continue to expand gradually, the idea of doctors and nurses having to choose between their jobs and the moral principle to protect Life is not far-fetched. In Sweden and Scotland Pro-Life medical professionals have been fired for refusing to participate in abortions.
Stories like the resistance to assisted suicide legislation in Hawaii are a powerful example of why Pro-Life legislative priorities for the 86th Texas Legislative Session include conscience protections for healthcare professionals. Clear protections in the law would ensure that Pro-Life healthcare workers can file conscience objection to training, procedures, or medical decisions that violate their consciences.
Strong conscience protections would not only apply to doctors and nurses but would address all medical professionals who conscientiously object to certain procedures. Most importantly, such protections would ensure that medical professionals do not face discrimination for their moral convictions.
As a society, we must protect innocent human lives. As the recent legalization of assisted suicide shows, when laws fail to protect innocent human lives, individual healthcare workers must have the right to conscientiously object.