Assisted-suicide bill in death throes
Stiff opposition seems likely to keep the legislation from surviving the session
A proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Hawaii met with overwhelming opposition at a state House hearing last night, and it appeared unlikely to survive the legislative session.
House Health Chairman Josh Green said he received about 300 written testimonies, which ran 10-to-1 against House Bill 675. Last night's hearing was attended by about 100 people and lasted several hours, with most of the testimony against the bill.
Lt. Gov. James Aiona was the first to testify, setting the tone for much of the night: "I just want to say for the record my opposition, my strong opposition, for this bill."
Versions of the proposal have been before the Legislature since 1999 and have always been defeated.
With new members comprising the Health Committee and advances in technology, Green said it is important to revisit the issue since it was last defeated in 2005 and perhaps make a clear statement about the community's view on the issue.
The early indications showed committee members did not support the bill, said Green (D, Keauhou-Honokohau).
Green, who is an emergency room physician, said he was on the fence about physician-assisted suicide, which he noted probably would not mesh with Hawaii's culture.
Speaking on behalf of the Hawaii Medical Association, John McDonnell said the group favors more education of pain management techniques beginning at the undergraduate and graduate level.
"Requests for physician-assisted suicide should be a signal to the physician that the patient's needs are unmet," he said.
Daniel Fischberg, medical director of pain and palliative care at the Queen's Medical Center, said, "This is about giving a new power to physicians, a power that we don't want."
Increased education and access to hospice and palliative care, which are underutilized, are needed, he said.
But not all the testimony was against the bill.
Palolo resident Suzi Coy spoke about her experience with her aging parents.
Her mother suffered 20 years with Alzheimer's, pneumonia and hallucinations, she said. Her blinded father began to ask why they were still alive.
"Do you want your beloved people to die like this?" she asked.
Oregon is the only state in the union that allows physician-assisted suicide, which means a doctor can prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to a terminally ill patient.
Waipahu resident Kevin Inouye, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident 14 years ago and lay in a coma for three months, was convinced the bill should die.
"This bill is wrong. It's taking advantage of the elderly, disabled, sick -- kicking a man when he's down," he said. "If this law was in effect, I would have went for it, and I wouldn't be here today. You can't control this bill once you pass it."
Inouye has regained some movement in his upper body, and lives on his own with assistance from medical aides.
"I would go for more patient comfort," he said.