Sunday, June 2, 2002

Death with dignity
makes platform

By Crystal Kua

Democrats worried about providing Republicans with ammunition against them this election season debated whether to include support for the controversial death with dignity issue in their party platform.

The platform approved yesterday by delegates to the Democrats' state convention includes the following sentence: "Democrats support the right of people to choose death with dignity under appropriate safeguards."

The language didn't specifically mention physician-assisted suicide, which allows terminally ill patients to end their life by taking a lethal dose of medication prescribed by physician.

But Richard Port, a former party chairman, argued that the implication was there and he wanted the sentence out.

"Death with dignity requires a doctor to prescribe poison to end a person's life," Port told delegates. "Members of the convention need to know what 11 Democratic senators knew when they voted against this."

The issue divided Democrats in the Legislature this past session with the House supporting it and a split Senate killing the issue. The death with dignity bill that includes physician-assisted suicide also had the support of Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Ole Fulks, a delegate from the Big Island and a member of the platform, said that the committee discussed the issue "quite a bit" the night before and decided to keep the plank in.

"This is not saying doctor-assisted suicide," Fulks said. "It could mean a number of things. This is a pro-choice issue. It's up to the individual, really."

Port said that the emotional rhetoric seen with the same-sex marriage controversy that cost some Democrats their seats during past elections could also be seen this time around.

"We don't want our elected officials losing this year," Port said.

He said he doesn't want to see Democratic candidates defending themselves against signs saying the candidate favors suicide or calling the candidate Dr. Death.

"If we have this in the platform, every Democrat is going to be vulnerable to the Republicans and other charges," Port said. "And we don't need that this year."

Port said that a resolution which calls for further education in the death with dignity issue was more appropriate. The resolution was approved.

But in a voice vote, Port's motion to delete the sentence failed.

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