HONOLULU — The American Civil Liberties Union demanded Thursday that a Hawaii retirement home stop discriminating against non-Catholic residents and allow them to take advantage of the state’s new medically assisted suicide law if they wish.
The ACLU of Hawaii sent a letter to the executive director of the Kahala Nui home after receiving an anonymous tip that the home had notified residents they would not be permitted to exercise the provisions of the law, which takes effect in January.
The retirement home told residents in a memo dated May 11 this was because the facility’s lease for land under its buildings prohibits activity that is “morally repugnant” to the Roman Catholic Church, including euthanasia.
The church owns the land under the buildings, which is in an affluent Honolulu neighborhood called Kahala.
Wendy Wong, Kahala Nui’s executive director, said in a statement the home was reviewing the letter with its legal counsel.
“That said, in no uncertain terms, Kahala Nui does not discriminate and has never denied residency based on religion, race, sex, color or any other basis,” she said.
The Catholic Church said in a statement its ground lease prohibits Kahala Nui from promoting assisted suicide but the document specifies the restriction doesn’t refer to the acts of individual residents.
“This issue is between Kahala Nui and its residents,” the statement said.
Mateo Caballero, the legal director of the ACLU of Hawaii, said the home was discriminating against those who weren’t Catholic and was telling residents they have to conform to the Catholic Church’s teachings.
“I couldn’t think of a more clear violation of the Fair Housing Act and Hawaii’s own anti-discrimination laws,” he said.
Caballero said he’s not aware of another case in which a retirement home prevented its residents from using a medically assisted suicide law.
Caballero said he wants the home to send another note to residents rescinding its May 11 memo and inform residents it was wrong. Caballero said he hopes the ACLU can work with the home on the issue. If not, he said the ACLU would weigh its options, including a potential lawsuit.
Hawaii became the sixth state to legalize medically assisted suicide in April when Gov. David Ige signed the legislation into law.
The law allows doctors to fulfill requests from terminally ill patients for prescription medication that will allow them to die.
Doctor-assisted deaths are already legal in California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Oregon was the first state to adopt such a law in 1997.