On Thursday the Hawaii Senate narrowly rejected a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The bill, which was defeated in a 14-11 vote, would have allowed terminally ill patients to request prescriptions for fatal doses of pain medications. Hawaii would have joined Oregon as the only states with such laws.

Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano, a Democrat, introduced the bill, known as the Death With Dignity Act. It had been approved by the House 30-20, but Sen. David Matsuura, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, stalled it in committee.

On Tuesday the Senate voted 15-10 to recall the bill from committee, then voted 13-12 to place it on the floor for a final vote May 2. The legislative session ended yesterday.

The bill was defeated after nearly four hours of debate. Three senators, who many believed were leaning toward approval of the bill on Tuesday, changed their votes.

"We are thrilled and grateful," said Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum. "It is an amazing victory for Hawaii's families. Capitol observers thought the bill's passage was a virtual certainty after the earlier vote, but the community really got involved."

Roland Halpern, executive director of Compassion in Dying of Hawaii, said he was "naturally disappointed that the bill didn't pass, [but] we are nonetheless appreciative that the debate has come this far … All we were hoping for was a fair hearing, and I think we got one."

Halpern is a member of the Social Justice Council of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, which supported the bill. The 200-member church first adopted a "right to die" resolution in 1988.

The Hawaii bill is similar to an Oregon law that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft challenged in November. Ashcroft issued a ...

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