Hawaii likely to OK bill on aided suicide

Similar law in Oregon was targeted by Ashcroft

May 02, 2002|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Hawaii is expected to become the second state to allow physician-assisted suicide, two weeks after a judge rebuffed the federal government's attempt to ban the practice in Oregon.

The state Senate is scheduled to take a final vote today on a law nearly identical to the Oregon statute.

After an emotional debate, the measure passed the Senate 13-12 on an initial vote Tuesday night, leaving both sides scrambling over the next 48 hours to line up votes for a final reading, required under state law.

"The proponents have been tenacious. For the people in our community who are opposed to assisted suicide, if they do nothing, we will have physician-assisted suicide in Hawaii," said Kelly Rosati, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Family Forum, a conservative, pro-family organization that has mobilized grass-roots opposition to the legislation.

The state House approved two so-called "death with dignity" bills in early March. But the measure was stalled in the Senate, in part because of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's move to sanction doctors in Oregon.

Ashcroft's directive, issued in November, found that doctors who prescribe drugs such as barbiturates to hasten the death of the terminally ill are in violation of federal drug trafficking laws.

But a judge in Oregon ruled last month that Ashcroft had overstepped his authority, a development that helped revive the stalled legislation in Hawaii.

Yesterday, attorneys for patients in Oregon who had sued to challenge the Ashcroft directive filed a claim in federal court seeking nearly $1 million in attorney's fees.

The claim was filed under a statute that allows reimbursement for citizens who must use the courts to enforce their rights.

The Justice Department has said it is considering an appeal of U.S. District Judge Robert Jones' ruling but has not filed one.

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