Emotion not good basis to support assisted suicide


POSTED: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I can agree with some of your findings stated in your Dec. 15 editorial (”;Legalize aided suicide,”; Star-Bulletin) but I don't agree with your conclusion that assisted suicide should be legalized.

The tragic and heart-wrenching situation of the Yagi family will elicit calls for legislation, but as a former lawmaker of 20 years, formulating law and policy on the basis of individual cases and emotion is not a good practice.

(Please note that as the chairman of the House Health Committee, we scheduled a hearing in 2004 on the “;Death with Dignity Bill.”; It lasted almost 12 hours and resulted in the committee holding the bill.)

Contrary to your conclusion, it could be argued that the Yagi case shows why assisted suicide is not a good idea.

First, it is obvious that Mr. Robert Yagi's mental state would not be conducive to making a sound decision. Those of us who are or have been caregivers know it is very stressful and demanding and not ideal for making life and death decisions.

Second, if his wife had a terminal illness, we know that Hawaii has high-quality hospice programs available whose primary objective is to minimize pain and suffering for the patient while helping families plan and deal with end-of-life issues. Suicide, assisted or not, may seem like an expedient way of disposing of emotional and seemingly hopeless situations. However, it ends up causing problems for those who survive.

The answer lies not in laws that depend on the subjective judgment of man, a lesson that Hawaii has learned in deciding to repeal our death penalty, but the development of a system of care that focuses on health, not death, and a support system that helps families whether they choose to care for their own at home or choose to rely on residential care, institutional care or a combination thereof. No one will deny that caregiving is a family and cultural tradition in Hawaii—and for many Asian families an obligation. In rare cases, when taken to the extreme, this obligation can produce tragic results.

For Mr. Yagi, it is my hope that his death will not be in vain but will result in more compassion not just for the patient, but the caregiver as well.

Dennis A. Arakaki is executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum/Hawaii Catholic Conference.