Legislature 2002

Death bill strikes
nerve with
state senator

Doctor-aided suicide would not
have helped Sen. Matsuura's dad

By Crystal Kua

In the final days before his death, former state Sen. Richard Matsuura, stricken with inoperable liver and pancreatic cancer, could only take in food and water intravenously. A morphine pump helped him relieve the pain with a touch of a button.

"We would have loved to have had him drink a glass of water at that point," his son, David, recalled. "We would have loved to have him eat anything."

The suffering his father endured still visibly pains the 39-year-old Matsuura.

"Hard." He paused as his voice softens and cracks a bit. "Very difficult."

Sen. David Matsuura, who now holds the same Big Island seat his father held for more than a decade, said the House-approved physician-assisted suicide measures, designed after a similar law in Oregon that allows physicians to write a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients who must ingest the medicine, wouldn't have helped his dad.

"The only thing that he would have been able to get was a lethal dose of barbiturates, but he would never have been able to take it personally by himself on his own," Matsuura said.

Matsuura, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, was to hold a hearing at 1 p.m. today in conference room 225 on a revamped death-with-dignity bill that guts physician-assisted suicide provisions.

"Nobody wants suffering, and everybody wants to die with dignity. That's everybody's hope no matter who or what (religion) you believe in."
David Matsuura
State senator

"Our bill will tighten up some of the liability issues and double up the penalties for institutions and care providers for not following advance directives," Matsuura said.

Matsuura said the majority of testimony he has received supports his position against physician-assisted suicide.

"The bill as he's written it doesn't give a thing. I appreciate the effort but I don't know what the strategy is." said Roland Halpern, a member of First Unitarian Church of Honolulu's Social Justice Council. The church is a member of the Death with Dignity Hawaii coalition. "We prefer the House bill."

The House passed two death-with-dignity measures. One is a proposed constitutional amendment to allow physician-assisted suicide, and the other is a bill that sets out the terms under which physician-assisted suicide would be carried out.

Matsuura was criticized for initially saying he would not hear the bill. The controversy heightened when Matsuura called the bill "dumb." He said later he regretted saying that.

Criticism also came from Gov. Ben Cayetano who said Matsuura should put his personal and religious views aside.

Matsuura, a member of the Haili Congregational Church in Hilo, said religion played no role in his decisions on the bill.

"If you really study mainly all the religions, true life comes after death," Matsuura said. "Nobody wants suffering, and everybody wants to die with dignity. That's everybody's hope no matter who or what you believe in."

He said he just doesn't like the approach taken in Oregon, the only state with a physician-assisted suicide law, which along with Hawaii's pending legislation is getting national attention.

"Basically the Oregon law is not for the really sick, sick, where people say, 'My mom is on morphine in the hospital, she's in pain.' It cannot help them because they cannot ingest by themselves the lethal dose," he said. "How does that relieve suffering?"

Halpern agrees that the physician-assisted suicide bill probably would not have helped in the situation with the elder Matsuura, who died in 1997, because as part of the safeguards of the bill a person must be lucid and competent to make that decision and must also self-administer the medication.

But there may be others in Hawaii who could benefit by the legislation, he said. "This is really a matter of free choice; you should have it if you are suffering, and if you don't want to take it, you don't take it."

Legislature Directory

Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

Testimony by email:
Include in the email the committee name; bill number;
date, time and place of the hearing; and number of copies
(as listed on the hearing notice.) For more information,
or call 587-0478.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin