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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 8, 2002

Assisted suicide balloting rejected

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Voters probably won't have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue of whether the state should legalize physician- assisted suicide.

A proposed state constitutional amendment that would have put the issue on the November ballot failed to win the required two-thirds vote on the House floor yesterday. However, House Judiciary chairman Eric Hamakawa said it is still possible for lawmakers to reconsider and put the matter before the voters.

In any event, Hamakawa, D-3rd (S. Hilo, Puna), contends the Legislature has the authority to legalize physician-assisted suicide without a constitutional amendment, and a bill to do so was approved in a 30-20 vote on the House floor yesterday.

Hamakawa said the bill will directly affect few people, but that the measure is important because society must find a more humane way to treat people in their final hours.

"I think that each individual should have the ability to make the decision for themselves how to handle end-of-life decisions," Hamakawa said.

The bill now goes to the state Senate, but Senate Health and Human Services chairman David Matsuura, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna), said yesterday he will not hear it.

Matsuura said that judging from yesterday's House vote, the constitutional amendment is unlikely to pass in any event, and said a similar law in Oregon has triggered lawsuits and legal controversy.

Opponents of the bill, led by the 19 House Republicans, protested that some patients may wish to end their lives because of severe depression and not because they are terminally ill. Some doctors may not recognize the depression, they said.

Rep. Joe Gomes said supporters of the bill also "gloss over" important arguments that the elderly may be subject to manipulation, or that people may end their own lives because they don't want to burden their families.

Gomes, R-51st (Lanikai, Waimanalo), also noted that national groups representing disabled people have strongly opposed the assisted-suicide bill.

"I don't think this is the right thing to do. I certainly think this body needs to study it more, and more intensely," Gomes said. "I don't think we've heard from those we should hear from on this issue."

Rep. Lei Ahu Isa, who also voted against the bills, said her constituents told her their community needs more senior centers, and "a lot of our people are more lonely and depressed than suicidal."

"My philosophy is not one of cruelty, but of respecting a greater power than ourselves," said Ahu Isa, D-27th (Pu'unui, 'Alewa, Nu'uanu).

Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed the bill, which would allow a person who is terminally ill but legally and mentally competent to request in writing a lethal dose of drugs.

A second physician is required to confirm the terminal diagnosis, and at least two witnesses would have to be present for the signing of the request. After waiting at least 48 hours, the doctor could write a prescription, which must be self- administered by the patient.

Rep. Joseph Souki, D-8th (Waiehu, Ma'alaea, Napili), said as a Catholic he has reservations about it, but voted for the bill.

"Even though I may have personal misgivings against it, I don't believe it is my right to tell the people of the state of Hawai'i that you cannot use your free will to decide whether you would want to end you life when the moment comes," he said. "It is your choice to make, and it is not mine."