The Fifth Annual Report on the successful Oregon Death With Dignity (DWD) law was released on March 5, 2003, by the Oregon State Department of Health. As in years past, the statistics document the safety and soundness of the Oregon law: all 38 DWD patients were mentally competent and terminally ill; all made repeated and voluntary requests for assistance; and all had access to (and the great majority were enrolled in) hospice programs.

Scott Foster, director of communications for the Hawaii Death With Dignity organization, notes that far more than 38 people benefited from the Oregon law in 2002. “For every Oregonian who hastened their death, 10 others began the qualification process, hundreds discussed the option with their doctors, and thousands found comfort just knowing they had a choice.”

While national and local polls continue to show that the majority of Americans support this end-of-life choice; a powerful few continue to undermine it. Efforts to legalize physician assisted dying in Hawaii came within two votes of passing in 2002.

This year, a coalition led by the Hawaii Catholic Conference and Hawaii Right to Life responded by spending $40,000 on attack ads before the legislative session even started. The expensive media campaign had startling little effect on voter attitudes and a February 2003 Hawaii poll showed 71 percent of the registered voters in Hawaii still favoring the bill.

Despite the bill’s continued strong support, the deadline for a legislative hearing passed quietly on Feb. 28, 2003 with “the state budget crisis,” and “other important pressing matters” cited by key legislators as the reason. Foster thinks they have simply been “had” by the conservative right.

“The latest ploy being used by the conservative right with the Hawaii State Legislature is to try and change the argument to passing legislation aimed at better palliative and end of life care. This is a red hearing because the Oregon law has shown that dramatic improvement to palliative care, particularly in the area of pain management, will come only after a DWD law is enacted. Empowering terminally patients with the full range of options is the surest way to improve end-of-life care. Other states have tried other methods and ”’none”’ are showing the kind of comprehensive reform and success that Oregon is. The doctors are simply too afraid of the federal government yanking their prescriptive rights. The question is, how many more years is our Legislature going to continue to let terminally ill people in Hawaii suffer needlessly?”

The complete Five Year Oregon Annual Report is online at http://www.dhs.state.or.us/publichealth/chs/pas/pas.cfm

Foster can be reached via email at: mailto:fosters005@hawaii.rr.com

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