Former state representative Ernest “Juggie” Heen Jr., a scion of one of the most prominent political families in Hawaii history who in his final years became a strong advocate for physician-assisted suicide, died Sunday night after a lengthy battle with pancreatic and liver cancer, a family member said. He was 82.
Heen died shortly before midnight at Tripler Army Medical Center for Aging, his brother, former circuit and appeals court judge Walter Heen said today. He was diagnosed with lung cancer about 15 years ago and had been in remission when the cancer returned in his liver and pancreas in the last two to three years, his brother said. He entered Tripler Center for Aging a few months ago.
“He was a true character,” his brother said. “He had a keen ability to perceive underlying issues that people were glossing over and was able to express the essence of those issues very clearly and succinctly.”
One of nine children of former city clerk and territorial senator Ernest Heen Sr., Heen served three terms in the state Legislature during the 1960s and in recent years worked as an organizer and mentor for the state Democratic Party.
“He became a mentor to many, many, many members of the party,” his brother said.
Last year, he became involved with an ad campaign for Compassion and Choice, an advocacy group for patients who want to make end-of-life decisions on their own. The group had lobbied the Legislature to take up the issue of physician-assisted suicide.
“There is a group of doctors who are willing to assist people in managing their ends of lives. Anyone who is suffering now needs the assistance to guide them through the end of life,” Heen said in an interview.
Heen received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Democratic Party of Hawaii during its 2012 state convention and was introduced by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He received similar honors from the Honolulu City Council and the Hawaii State Office of Veterans Services and Department of Defense during the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War.
Although he served in the Air Force for four years, he was never deployed to combat, his brother said.
Ernest Heen is survived by four sons, a daughter and two brothers.