Thursday, April 18, 2002

Assisted-suicide bill
appears to be dead
in state Senate

The governor urges a vote despite
anyone's religious opposition

By Crystal Kua

Hawaii's controversial death-with-dignity bill does not appear to have the support to be resurrected despite a call by Gov. Ben Cayetano for a Senate vote.

Cayetano pushed for the Senate vote yesterday after a federal judge upheld Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, the only law of its kind in the nation and the model for the death-with-dignity bill that the governor wants to see passed.

Legislature 2002 The ruling came after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft challenged the Oregon law last year by putting out a directive banning lethal prescriptions.

Hawaii's bill has been buried in the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Sen. David Matsuura (D, South Hilo).

Matsuura held firm yesterday to his position on the bill.

"Personally, I do not want to take it up," he said. "Why (the governor) wants to throw this back to us in the last week of the session given the problems that we currently have right now, the issues that we've got to deal with, I'm not really quite sure."

But the governor once again said Matsuura, a Christian, should not let his religious beliefs dictate what he does with this bill.

"While I respect Sen. Matsuura's religious convictions, he should not, as did U.S. Attorney Ashcroft, be guided by those religious beliefs in thwarting the democratic process he was elected to uphold," Cayetano said.

Scott Foster, spokesman for Death with Dignity Hawaii, applauded the governor's actions and the federal judge's ruling. "I hope it causes (Matsuura) to reconsider his position."

Foster said Matsuura used the Ashcroft challenge as one reason for him keeping the bill in committee, but now that the court has ruled against Ashcroft, that obstacle is no longer valid.

Not so, said John Long, executive director of Hawaii Right to Life, which opposes the bill.

Long said an appeal of the judge's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely, so the challenge to the law is not dead. "I'm still confident the U.S. Supreme Court will not allow Oregon to continue using federal drugs to assist suicides," Long said.

Foster said his group is continuing to organize an effort to have people contact their senators to have the bill pulled from Matsuura's committee and sent to the Senate floor.

"We want it voted up and down," Foster said. "We're going to push it as far as it can go this session."

Long said, however, that after talking to lawmakers yesterday, there does not appear to be support for bringing the measure to a floor vote.

"I caught a lot of yawns," Long said. "I just don't think anyone is going to fall on the sword on this one."

The bill, part of the governor's legislative package, would have allowed a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for terminally ill patients wanting to end their lives.

Matsuura had been criticized for initially refusing to hear the death-with-dignity bill that was passed by the House, calling it "dumb." He later apologized for the remark.

When Matsuura decided he would have a hearing on the bill after all, he did so without the physician-assisted suicide provisions in the measure. After the hearing, he deferred taking action on the bill.

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