Saturday, February 20, 1999

Legislators take
assisted death
off slate, seek
more discussion

By Pat Omandam


Legislature '99 The issue of dying with dignity is dead this legislative session.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee decided to hold four bills past a legislative deadline yesterday. The bills would have legalized physician-assisted death and physician-assisted suicide, controversial end-of-life issues which drew emotional testimony.

The committee unanimously voted to hold Senate Bills 849, 692, 1037 and 981. The Senate action came two weeks after a House committee killed a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide.

Health and Human Services Chairwoman Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Liliha) told a packed meeting room yesterday that discussion must continue because many questions were left unanswered.

Chun Oakland, who heard passionate testimony during a 7-1/2-hour public hearing on Wednesday, said lawmakers must first address related issues before they can consider legalization.

"I know that among the medical professionals, I think there's a consensus that there still needs to be a whole lot more effort in managing pain and caring for the individual in a more compassionate way possible," she said.

In a physician-assisted death, a doctor administers a lethal agent to a patient who voluntarily makes such a request but is unable to do it himself. In physician-assisted suicide, a doctor provides the lethal agent, which the patient self-administers.

Chun Oakland also said the committee received troubling testimony that some health-care providers didn't honor people with "living wills" who specifically stated how they wanted to be treated. The state needs to explore that problem as well, she said.

She suggested the state Executive Office on Aging take the lead. The office over the past two years helped a state blue-ribbon panel that favored legalization of physician-assisted suicide and death.

Yesterday's deadline was to move all bills to their final committee.

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