PAST Hawaii Legislatures have refused to enact a broadened version of Oregon's law permitting physician-assisted suicide, the only one of its kind in the nation. The proposal has been changed in the current session to more resemble the Oregon law and satisfy concerns about possible abuse. Such a law, with appropriate safeguards, is needed to relieve suffering during the final stages of life.
Death with dignity bill
The issue: Hawaii legislators are
considering a proposal to allow
The proposal was drafted in 1998 by Governor Cayetano's Blue Ribbon Panel on Living with Dignity. A.A. Smyser, the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor until his death last March, was a member of the panel and a leading advocate of the legislation.
By an 11-7 vote, the panel recommended that assisted death be permitted in Hawaii when requested by a mentally alert person and approved by two physicians, a psychologist and a social worker after a two-week waiting period. Unlike Oregon's law, which permits assisted death only in terminal cases, the Blue Ribbon Panel's version would have extended it to patients with intractable or unbearable illness that can be neither cured nor relieved, and permitted euthanasia.
Rep. Eric Hamakawa, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has offered a proposal that more closely resembles the Oregon law, limiting fatal prescriptions to patients with an illness that has been diagnosed to result in death within six months. The patient also must be capable of communicating health-care decisions. Hamakawa made the proposal both as a bill and as a constitutional amendment that would be put to voters. Cayetano approves of the change. The committee approved the measures on Saturday.
Senate Health Committee Chairman David Matsuura has refused to hold hearings on the proposal, saying there is too little time to address issues of insurance and criminal law. His explanation is unacceptable. Legislators have been aware of the proposal for four years, plenty of time to examine all the ramifications.
Oregon's Death With Dignity Act took effect in 1997 after 60 percent of the state's voters ratified it. More than 90 patients, most of them suffering from cancer, have used the law, representing less than one-tenth of 1 percent of that state's deaths.
Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to nullify the Oregon law in November by ordering federal drug agents to sanction doctors for providing lethal doses of medicine, but a federal judge has temporarily blocked the order. Whether Ashcroft has the power to apply the sanctions under the federal Controlled Substances Act is at issue in the case.
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THE new leadership of the City Council short-circuits an effort to burnish the body's tarnished image by selecting Rene Mansho, a member whose integrity remains in question, to represent Honolulu at a national conference. If Council members set aside their differences, they surely can choose a more suitable delegate.
Mansho is bad choice to
represent the city
The issue: A City Council member
will attend the same conference that
resulted in her being punished for
misusing taxpayer money.
Mansho is the target of impeachment proceedings before the Hawaii Supreme Court, a move some constituents initiated after they failed to gather enough support to recall her. She still is being investigated by federal and city authorities for possible misuse of city funds. Less than a year ago, Mansho was denied travel at taxpayer expense after she admitted she violated ethics and campaign spending laws and was ordered to pay $80,000 in fines and reimbursements. Mansho was tagged for using campaign funds for travel for which she also was reimbursed with taxpayer dollars. One of those trips was to a National Association of Counties conference, the same meeting she is set to attend next month.
The reputation of the Council has been badly damaged on other fronts. Foremost was the conviction of member Andy Mirikitani on federal bribery charges. After he was found guilty, Mirikitani doggedly refused to resign until his sentencing in December, then married his companion and co-defendant a day before his resignation so that she would be eligible for health and other benefits.
Jon Yoshimura, who was Council chairman until he stepped down earlier this week, faces suspension of his license to practice law after he lied about a hit-and-run accident. He also has been fined about $3,500 for questionable campaign spending practices. John Henry Felix has been locked in a dispute with city zoning officials for several years over an allegedly illegal wedding business operating from his Aina Haina home, costing the city $70,000 in legal fees thus far.
John DeSoto, who assumed the chairmanship Yoshimura relinquished, raised concerns about the public's perception of the Council as one reason he worked to gain a majority that could oust Yoshimura. He said Mansho was chosen for the conference because she is willing to work with her colleagues. "Somebody's got to be representing the majority of the Council," DeSoto said. That may be, but it is baffling why Mansho should be the somebody.
Less than a week old, the Council's reorganization has opened a fissure between DeSoto and his allies and other members, evident by the harsh words exchanged at a meeting last week. Six of the nine members will reach term limits this year. Until they depart for other ports, political or otherwise, they would do well to smooth the waters. The Council has already been buffeted by stormy seas.
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