comscore Death with Dignity issue deserves more, and better, debate
Editorial | Island Voices

Death with Dignity issue deserves more, and better, debate

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I embraced the Death With Dignity (DwD) issue 20-plus years ago via close friends on the forefront of the movement, including the late A.Q. McElrath. By the time I was 45, I had buried all of my family and the majority of my closest friends (AIDS). Watching so many long, painful debilitating deaths, I knew, when my time came, I wanted the option to terminate my life in a gentle manner should circumstances dictate.

I remain convinced that the well-organized opposition to DwD legislation in Hawaii and elsewhere is more about money and God than about our solving the many challenges associated with an aging population, the resulting end-of-life issues, or the out-of-control cost of health care in our state and nation. If you wonder where all that money is going, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Research, Development, and Information: "Medicare provides 64 percent of total health expenditures for beneficiaries in their last year of life …" and the numbers for private insurance and out-of-pocket expenditures are similar. Despite the smoke and mirror arguments about "compassion," as it is, there’s big money in death for many in the health care industry and DwD seems to threaten the status quo.

Death remains an uncomfortable topic and when religion, money and politics are added to the mix, it turns ugly. The DwD hearing on Feb. 7, 2007, was an embarrassing sham. Then-Rep. Joshua Green, M.D., chaired the House Health Committee and it was clear he was personally biased against the legislation and said as much in later interviews.

And so it was no surprise last Monday, rather than an unbiased hearing on the bill before the Senate Health Committee, chaired by now-Sen. Green, we again entertained a parade of health industry people, many well-meaning and understandably concerned disabled people, none of whom would qualify under the legislation, and people of extreme faith parroting the five talking points published by the Hawaii Family Forum — largely funded by the Catholic Church — who singlehandedly scuttled the bill in 2002. Committee members voted una-nimously to hold the bill.

It is also clear that an M.D. should not be chairing health committees. It’s an inherent conflict of interest. According to, a full one-third of Dr. Green’s campaign money in 2010 came in large donations from the "health sector":

» Hospitals with unfettered access to those with private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or state benefits;

» Hospice organizations and their employees who also enjoy unfettered access to the above;

» Physicians who enjoy a particularly-high standard of living from the status quo and their professional organizations, and

» Big pharmaceuticals.

No wonder nothing changes in Healthcare Land.

No, as long as there are doctors chairing health committees and as long as our Legislature permits unadulterated religious dogma to be presented without question, there will be no resolution to one of the most important issues of our time.

Thankfully, the public gets it: The Feb. 9 Star-Advertiser "Big Q" reader question emulates all recent polls, again demonstrating the high level of public support. A resounding 77 percent of Hawaii residents "favor legalizing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill."

When the law finally passes, it will be too late for many of us who will die unnecessarily nasty, lingering deaths. It’s particularly sad that Ah Quon McElrath died in the very circumstances she fought so long and hard against, connected to machines and tubes long after all hope was gone. A.Q. deserved better, as do you — should you philosophically embrace this humane option.


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