House panel to mull 'Death with Dignity'
No further action is being scheduled for a similar Senate bill
A year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, lawmakers in Hawaii plan to examine the issue once again.
The proposal to allow competent, terminally ill adults obtain a lethal dose of medication to end their lives will be heard by the House Health Committee. Just as with past proposals, the bill specifically prohibits mercy killings, lethal injections and active euthanasia, and requires patients to provide informed consent.
House Bill 675 initially was referred only to the Judiciary Committee. Health Chairman Dr. Josh Green (D, Keauhou-Honokohau) said he met with Democratic leadership this week and was successful in getting the bill steered to his committee first.
"I'm going to hear it in the next 10 days because people deserve to have a hearing on things they're passionate about," Green said yesterday. "It's an emotional issue and it's a critical issue because we have to be safe with peoples' lives."
Green said he plans to hear the bill at a time later in the day, when more people are likely to be able to testify in person. In the past, the so-called "Death with Dignity" measure has drawn some of the largest crowds to testify.
The bill was introduced by Judiciary Vice Chairman Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) and co-signed by 12 Democrats and two Republicans.
Similar measures have been introduced in the Senate, including Senate Bill 1995, sponsored by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). No further action has been scheduled on the proposal.
A contentious issue in the past -- including in 2002, when the bill fell just three Senate votes shy of making it out of the Legislature -- it's one Hawaii lawmakers have not taken up the issue since 2005.*
In 2004, a similar proposal passed out of the House Judiciary Committee before being killed by the full chamber. No proposal was advanced in the Senate.
House leaders were criticized then for referring the bill only to the Judiciary Committee. The single referral was seen by opponents of assisted suicide as an end-run around the Health Committee, where members of the medical community traditionally had turned up in force to oppose the bill.
Similar concerns were raised this year, because the proposal was introduced in the House and referred only to the Judiciary Committee.
House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, who supports the assisted-suicide bill, acknowledged that the bill was referred only to Judiciary because it had a better chance of advancing, but he agrees that there are health issues in the bill that need to be vetted by Green's committee.
"The intent in referring just to Judiciary was to keep the discussion alive and to not put members of that (Health) committee under undue pressure because of the group that they deal with on a day-to-day basis -- the health care providers," said Caldwell (D, Manoa).
"The fair way was to have it referred to Health and Judiciary," he added. "I think it's going to be more difficult to get it out of the Health Committee -- for valid reasons -- but I just would like to have the debate continue."
Green said he would give the bill a fair hearing, adding, "It's not a foregone conclusion whether it will pass or fail."
Among those who cheered the re-referral to the Health Committee was Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum.
"I think it's a proposal that's opposed by pretty much all of Hawaii's medical community, the disability rights community as well as by many in the faith community," Rosati said.
One of the supporting groups is the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. "The ACLU believes that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have the right to make these decisions on their own terms," said ACLU Hawaii legal director Lois Perrin.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
» The state Legislature most recently took up the issue of physician-assisted suicide in 2005, when a bill was heard in the House Health Committee and deferred indefinitely, killing the measure that year. A story on Page A3 yesterday said the proposal was most recently discussed in 2004.