Hawaii Doctors Form Aid In Dying Advisory Council

PACAID

In his 35 years as an oncologist, Dr. Charles Miller has seen a lot of patients with breast, prostate, colon, lung or ovarian cancer.

For those at the end of their lives, most are either in lots of pain or experiencing a poor quality of life.

"They say to you, 'Doc, I want to get this over with. I just want to finish this,'" said Miller. "And it is a decision between the patient and the physician."

Typically, a patient will be in a hospice and a nurse will call the doctor to get permission to increase a morphine dose so that the patient will not wake up.

"But that does not give the patient control or choice," said Miller. "I know that there were patients who wanted to have more control — who wanted to say, 'Doctor, I want to do this.'"

The problem has been uncertainty among many doctors about how to provide that control, and whether there is a legal risk.

To help doctors, Miller has helped form a new group called the Physician Advisory Council for Aid in Dying, or PACAID. The four-member council will help doctors "empower" their terminally ill patients, including prescribing lethal barbiturates.

PACAID is likely to have an impact locally on the socio-political debate over aid in dying.

So-called Death With Dignity legislation has met with strong opposition from churches, some social-service agencies and end-of-life care providers at the Hawaii Legislature, and lawmakers have repeatedly heeded their concerns.

But PACAID's establishment also comes in the wake of a January survey by QMark Research of Hawaii that found 76 percent of doctors agree that "people in the final stages of a terminal disease should have the right and the choice to bring about their peaceful death."

Equally important, say supporters of the aid-in-dying movement, is a growing belief that the courts and state and federal governments do not have to be involved.

Groups like Compassion & Choices, which has a local chapter, argue that there are already laws on the books that favor autonomy when it comes to end-of-life decisions.

"The bottom line, in overwhelming numbers, people are saying this is not the government's business, that this is between a patient and their doctors," said Dr. Robert Nathanson, another member of PACAID. "So, if that's the case, doctors need to have some kind of guideline. And we felt that PACAID was needed."

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