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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 3, 2002

The 2002 Legislature
Assisted suicide bill rejected

• Consumer bills gain passage
• Legislative scorecard

By Lynda Arakawa
and Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state Senate yesterday defeated a bill to allow assisted suicide when three lawmakers switched their votes on the final day of the 2002 Legislature.

After more than two hours of debate that was both emotional and pragmatic, the Senate voted 14-11 to reject House Bill 2487, which would have allowed terminally ill, competent people to obtain lethal prescriptions that they could take themselves to end their lives.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House approved a measure that would cap and regulate wholesale and retail gas prices beginning in 2004. It was among several measures passed as lawmakers wrapped up the 60-day legislative session.

Two days earlier, the Senate voted 13-12 to advance the assisted suicide bill to a final vote, after it had been bottled up in a committee for much of the session. But three senators who had voted yes on Tuesday — Bob Hogue, Donna Mercado Kim and Rod Tam — voted no yesterday.

Hogue, R-24th (Kane'ohe, Kailua), said he wasn't convinced patients would truly be in control of the decision. Kim, D-15th (Kalihi Valley, 'Aiea), said she was uncomfortable with parts of the bill, such as a requirement for only a two-week relationship between doctor and patient. Tam, D-13th (Nu'uanu, Mo'ili'ili, Manoa), said lawmakers and the public should not rush into such a important decision.

The vote to defeat the bill disappointed supporters such as Bill Perry, a 91-year-old Honolulu resident who has prostate cancer.

"That's the only bill that we have available that gives people a choice to make a decision over their own body," Perry said. He said he cannot say whether he would have used physician-assisted suicide if it became legal but that he would like to have the choice to do so.

"If life became so unbearable ... I would like to have the opportunity to make that decision," he said.

But Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawai'i Family Forum, said the focus should be on improving pain management and palliative treatment rather than giving people a means to end their lives.

"I am convinced that any right to die granted by this body would turn into a duty to die for Hawai'i's elderly and sick population," she said. "We have to do a better job delivering care to them, not delivering them the tools of death. We can do better than that."

Senators who supported the bill said there would be ample safeguards to prevent people from abusing a physician-assisted suicide law and argued that terminally ill people deserve a right to control the way they die.

But opponents said there were flaws in the bill and that lawmakers should not rush to pass legislation at the last minute without adequate public input and review. Up until Tuesday the bill was presumed to have failed because Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman David Matsuura, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna), had bottled up the measure in committee.

But senators pulled the bill to the floor on Tuesday, reviving the measure and sparking an emotional discussion on whether the terminally ill have a right to end their own lives.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, who proposed the measure, said he was disappointed but impressed by the level of debate on the issue.

"I thought it was a debate that, unlike many of the debates on the other issues, was one of very high level, without any hint of partisanship, and the positions stated I think were very, very good, and there's a tremendous opportunity to raise the level of awareness on this subject," he said.

Gas price caps

Opponents said capping gas prices would hurt small gas dealers, particularly on the Neighbor Islands, and that gas prices are already low. But supporters said the measure would provide relief to Hawai'i consumers.

Beginning July 2004, the state would set the maximum price of gasoline, based on an index of West Coast wholesale gasoline prices.

House Minority Floor Leader Charles Djou said the bill is the worst form of government regulation.. No other state in the nation has price controls and regulation of the sort contained in the bill, he said.

But House Energy and Environmental Protection Chairwoman Hermina Morita, D-12th (E. Maui, N. Kaua'i), said the bill will make gasoline pricing as transparent as possible to benefit consumers.

Advertiser staff writer Johnny Brannon contributed to this report. Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.