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The Hawai`i Death With Dignity Society was one of the five organizations honored during the December 13, 2017, ThinkTech Hawai`i annual Reception and dinner in the ballroom of Honolulu’s Laniākea YWCA. The Society’s work was recognized “for outstanding service to the community in its efforts to educate the community on Medical Aid in Dying legislation and in offering advice to those who are confronted with the pain and turmoil of terminal illness.”

Scott Foster became interested in the Death With Dignity issue in the mid-1980s during the AIDS Pandemic when he watched many of his friends in Hawai`i and on the Mainland die “long, painful deaths.” Two decades later, several of his political mentors approached him to discuss seeing a such a bill passed in Hawai`i. And so, after many years of laying the groundwork pro bono, when Governor Ben Cayetano unexpectedly told his staff in 2002 that he intended to introduce a Death With Dignity bill, Scott and his “formidable” team of supporters were ready.

The effort was funded by two national organizations, the Oregon Death With Dignity National Center and the National Hemlock Society (which was later “merged” with Compassion & Choices).

Working directly with Governor Cayetano, Oregon attorney Eli Stutsman, Esq. helped draft the 2002 Hawai`i bill. A board member of the original Death with Dignity Oregon, Stutsman had played a major role in drafting and in passing the original “Oregon Bill” in 1994.

To everyone’s amazement, the Hawai`i Bill moved quickly out of the House and after much contentious debate in the Senate, the bill failed by only three votes. The news made international headlines and Governor Ben Cayetano said, “The Death With Dignity issue has never come this far or moved this fast in any state legislature.” Read the history of the 2002 “near win” HERE. Read Death with Dignity Oregon’s letter of appreciation HERE

After the “near win” and seeing the need for a statewide local organization, Scott founded the Hawaii Death With Dignity Society. Scott and his organization continued to keep the issue before the public and in 2017, a new bill was passed by the Hawai`i State Senate with only three “no” votes but was “deferred” by the House Health Committee.

During the ensuing legislative interim with much “behind the scenes” political strategy and maneuvering, a new bill “with more safeguards” rebranded as the Our Care, Our Choice bill was introduced in 2018 and was passed by the legislature and immediately signed into law by Governor David Ige on April 5, 2018. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019. 

Scott believes this could have happened only because of the dedicated support of the Oregon Death With Dignity National Center, Compassion & choices and his long-time associate Marsha Joyner. “It was Marsha Joyner’s sage idea to rebrand the issue as a civil rights choice issue. That and our combined volunteers who showed up to present testimony and to personally lobby their own legislators made it happen. It was truly an amazing team effort” Scott said.

Also of note, before the bill passed, a credible state-wide poll had indicated “… 71 percent of poll participants said medical aid in dying should be approved.” Scott says, “The fact that 2018 is an election year made passing such a controversial bill rather extraordinary but I believe that these high Hawai`i poll numbers gave them the political courage and cover. After 16 years, the planets truly aligned for us.”

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