Saturday, April 3, 1999

Senate bill riles
euthanasia opponents

By Craig Gima


Legislature '99 Opponents of euthanasia say the issue is not dead at the Legislature this year, even though a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide did not advance out of either the House or Senate.

Hawaii Right to Life, Pro-Family Hawaii and other groups say another bill that will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday is a first step to legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

"It's purpose here is not to allow a natural death, but to kill the patient," said Andy Bloom of Hawaii Right to Life.

But proponents of House Bill 171, SD1 say it simply clarifies decisions doctors and families are already making.

The measure's intent is to allow living wills signed in other states to be valid in Hawaii. It also would allow family members or close friends of a patient to authorize a doctor to stop providing medical treatment -- including food and water tubes -- to dying patients who cannot make the decision on their own.

"It was the tradition and practice in medicine for many years," said James Pietsch, a member of the governor's blue-ribbon panel on living and dying with dignity. "Doctors, patients and families are seeking more comfort ...."

Opponents object to putting into law the ability to deny food and water to patients.

They also say the bill is vague and could lead to abuses.

"When you codify into law the right of a second party to make a life-or-death decision, you are traveling down a slippery slope," Bloom said.

Pietsch said courts have ruled food and water tubes can be considered medical treatment.

"Any person can refuse unwanted medical treatment," Pietsch said.

He said the bill also clarifies other people who can make that decision for incapacitated patients.

Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) said he is keeping an open mind about the bill.

He noted that the Judiciary Committee passed a Senate version of the bill earlier in the session.

"I think this is a public policy debate that should go forward," he said.

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