Time For A Death With Dignity Bill

Last week the mailperson delivered a postcard

from a Hilo memorial park (aka a cemetery). It advertised a “simple cremation for $37 a month” for two years and “a permanent urn niche from $29 a month” for three years.

Or cremation and an urn niche for $66 per month for three years.

What a deal.

Now I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Hilo – always thought I might live there someday. Never made it, however, so I don’t want my remains burnt and stored in a town in which I have neither friends nor relatives who might put flowers on my urn niche or enemies who might want to spit on it.

No, Hilo’s not the place for my ashes. But if the Hilo memorial park’s marketing person got my neighborhood wrong, she got my age right. I’ve had my biblical allotment, three score and ten. I’m on the back nine of life, heading for an urn niche somewhere.

But before we talk about urn niche rentals, my contemporaries and I talk about how we want to go. One buddy says when the time comes, he intends to gather his remaining strength and swim far out to sea. A high school classmate, after nursing a husband through a long, gruesome ordeal with terminal cancer, has been stashing away drugs to avoid a similar fate for herself.

All want a “death with dignity.” And all want to forego that difficult long swim out or a botched self-concocted drug cocktail.

That means a physician-assisted death with dignity.

Oregon passed the first death with dignity bill in 1997. The United States Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2006.

Hawaii came close to becoming the second. In 2002 a bill passed the State House of Representatives, and on its first two readings appeared to have sufficient votes to pass it in the Senate. If it had made it through, then Gov. Ben Cayetano promised to sign it. But between second and third readings, three senators changed their votes. It was defeated 14-11.

In explaining the failure of the bill to pass, Cayetano pointed to Hawaii’s well-organized religious right. Still, he was optimistic about the eventual passage of a death with dignity bill “in the next five years or so, this will become the law in the state of Hawaii.”

On this issue, the good governor’s prescience failed him. Eleven years later, death with dignity legislation still has not made it to a Hawaii governor’s desk.

Physician and House health committee chair Josh Green tried to resuscitate a death with dignity bill in 2005 and 2007. He couldn’t get it out of committee either session. There was talk of a bill during the 2011 session as well. Just talk.

Hawaii’s lawmakers are not alone in their reluctance to move on the issue. Only Washington and Montana have followed Oregon in legalizing physician-assisted death.

Yet clamor for a death with dignity bill is in the offing.

The nation’s baby boom generation, a shade younger than I, will reach their biblical allotment in a couple of years. They will face end of life with only an “advance directive” in their wills and hospice and palliative care.

No help from a physician. No choice, save a long swim out or a medicine cabinet full of sleep aids and tranquilizers.