Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, April 15, 1999

Maine may OK
assisted suicide

THE second state to approve physician-assisted suicide probably won't be Hawaii. More likely, it will be Maine.

Hemlock U.S.A., which founded the national right-to-die movement in 1980, thinks chances are bright there for voter petitions to put it on Maine's November ballot next year and win.

Hemlock U.S.A. is committing a minimum of $250,000, its largest one-year contribution so far, to help Maine organize its fund-raising and get ballot signatures. Faye Girsh, national president, says Maine polls and population breakdowns are even more favorable than were those in Oregon, the first state to ratify.

She sees little danger of repeating the 2 to 1 licking administered to a Michigan proposition last year. That fight, she says, was pushed locally without adequate organization or funding.

Available money was pretty well used up getting ballot signatures. In the final weeks before the vote there were insufficient funds to counter the millions spent on media saturation bought by Right to Life forces.

Girsh spoke here at a Hemlock Hawaii meeting last month along with Derek Humphry, founder of Hemlock. Humphry traced the growing success of the movement from a California defeat in 1988 up to the 60-40 Oregon victory in 1997. He believes more than half of all states will legalize physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia on request by the year 2020.

Girsh and Humphry believe assisted death forces can win in Maine even while being outspent by Right to Life and the Catholic Church foes, just as happened in two Oregon votes in 1994 and a re-ratification by a far bigger margin in 1997.

Humphry reported continuing rear guard actions in Oregon. Twelve bills in its 1999 legislature would further restrict assisted suicide -- even though only 15 of Oregon's 29,000 deaths were under the law last year.

In Congress, Rep. Henry Hyde, of impeachment fame, is a leading advocate for a bill forbidding the Food and Drug Administration to approve medications for assisted death -- an unconscionable override of the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 1997 decisions to leave choice in dying "to the laboratory of the states."

Girsh has an idea that conceivably could be used in Hawaii. This would be to reduce enabling legislation to a single sentence or paragraph. It would allow right-to-die help if carried out under accepted rules.

The Legislature would leave these rules to the Department of Health to adopt subject to approval by the governor. This would transfer the long haggles over details from the limited 60-day legislative session to a forum able to operate without time limits.

Our 1999 Legislature, perhaps bloodied by the 1997-98 fights over same-sex marriage, had no wish to even look at the details of the assisted-death law proposed by Governor Cayetano's Blue Ribbon Panel on Living and Dying With Dignity, on which I served. Neither the Senate nor the House invited testimony from the chairman of the panel!

Committees in each house ran through the charade of listening for a few hours to anyone who wanted to speak, then shelved the bills at least until next year. Only a single senator listened most of the time.

Hawaii polls consistently show strong support for legalizing doctor-assisted death under strict controls. National polls show similar support.

Girsh speaks of the right to die as "the ultimate civil right."

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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