'Death with Dignity' deserves fair hearing
A bill to allow physician-assisted suicide has been introduced in the Legislature.
THE state Senate's narrow vote rejecting adoption of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act five years ago caused the issue to languish in the next two sessions. The U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the Bush administration's challenge of the Oregon law should cause Hawaii to reconsider the legislation
A Blue Ribbon Panel on Living and Dying With Dignity, appointed a decade ago by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano and including the late A.A. Smyser, a former editor of the Star-Bulletin, recommended that Hawaii enact a law similar to the Oregon statute, the nation's only physician-assisted suicide law.
The proposal was approved by the House but was defeated by three votes in the Senate in 2002. It was pulled back in the House in 2004 after proponents found they lacked the votes for passage.
John Ashcroft, the attorney general during President Bush's first term, claimed that the Oregon law violated the federal Controlled Substances Act requirement that drugs be used for a "legitimate medical purpose." The high court, as it had done in the past, ruled a year ago that such issues should be left to the states.
Opponents of the bill have been miffed in recent years by its referral to the House Judiciary Committee, circumventing the Health Committee, a magnet for members of the medical community who oppose the measure. Rep. Josh Green, a Big Island doctor who heads the Health Committee, has said he will give the proposal a full hearing within the next week and then, we hope, put it to a committee vote.
Manipulation has worked both ways on this issue. In previous sessions, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee had bottled up the bill, citing Ashcroft's unleashing of federal agents on Oregon doctors.
Legislators should give the proposal a full hearing and votes at both the committee level and the full House or Senate.
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