Pulling the Plug in Paradise: Hawaii Legalizes Assisted Suicide

Americans strongly support the right to end suffering for terminal diseases, but states have lagged behind.


Pulling the plug
Jeff Wasserman /

There's not much good news for those with six months to live, but what if you could plan for your last moments to happen on a tropical island paradise?

You can. Yesterday Hawaii's governor signed a bill allowing for medically assisted suicide in the Aloha State. When the law takes effect next year, Hawaii will join five other states—California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, and Washington—and the District of Columbia in allowing terminally ill people to request and receive life-ending medication.

Mind you, people can't just fly into Hawaii, buy some pills, plop down on a beach, and end it all while watching the sun set over crystal blue waters. First of all, you have to establish yourself as a resident of the state. Then you must be diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill you within six months. Then you must make two oral requests (20 days apart) and one written request (with witness signatures) for a prescription for life-ending medication. And you have to prove you're of sound mind. So don't expect a rush of suicide tourism to Hawaii.

It's good news whenever a state formally gives permission to treat people as though they own their bodies and can decide when to end their own suffering.

Assisted suicide is one of those issues—like marijuana legalization—where government policy has lagged significantly behind public polling. Surveys show that nearly three out of four Americans approve allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives. Yet as Governing notes, New York's Supreme Court recently upheld a ban on assisted suicide, while 27 other state-level efforts just last year failed even to make it to a vote by lawmakers. In three of the five states where assisted suicide is legal, it took ballot initiatives from the citizens to force the state's hand.

So the struggles continue. Below, ReasonTV delved into a fight to bring assisted suicide to Montana back in 2013. Technically Montana is a sixth state that allows medically assisted suicide, but that's due to a state Supreme Court ruling and not an affirmative law. There have been efforts in Montana both to formally permit medically assisted suicide and to ban it entirely: