Saturday, March 13, 1999

Advocates for
doctor-aided death
not discouraged

The Hemlock Society's
executive director and founder
speak tomorrow

By Mary Adamski


A bill to permit physician-assisted death was shelved after its first round of debate in the state Legislature this session, but the national organization that promotes that choice for terminally ill people isn't discouraged.

Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, said it took years of education and advocacy for the array of other choices patients now have. "Gradually, education wins out," said the former journalist whose book about choices for the dying, "Final Exit," includes information on fatal dosages of drugs.

Faye Girsh, executive director of the national 27,000-member organization, said: "We see it as the progression of patients' rights, starting from the living will, to the verbal power of attorney, to hospice, to pain control, to refusal of treatment.

"We support all options at the end of life and would like to add assisted dying to the continuum of care as one choice for a small number of people."

Gov. Ben Cayetano, who backed the legislation, met yesterday with Girsh, Humphry and Andi van der Voort, president of the 300-member Hemlock Hawaii.

Girsh and Humphry will speak tomorrow at a 2 p.m. society meeting at Ala Wai Clubhouse. It is open to the public.

They think data from Oregon, the only state that permits physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults, will eventually be persuasive to lawmakers. Voters approved it in a 1997 ballot initiative. In the first year, Girsh said, Oregon's health department recorded 15 physician-assisted suicides. Six other people who obtained life-ending medication under the law died of their terminal diseases, and two are still alive. "That's out of 29,000 people dying."

"Compared with a comparable group of people who died without the law, they were of the same socioeconomic status. People were not driven to hasten their death by financial considerations or by undertreated pain," said Girsh, a clinical psychologist.

Hawaii opponents to the bill ranged from the Hawaii Medical Association and other medical and health care professional groups, to the Hawaii Catholic Conference and Hawaii Christian Coalition.

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