May 21, 2016
Death with dignity advocate seeks right to choose
By Pat Gee
For Scott Foster, getting a law passed in Hawaii to allow terminally ill people to end their lives is a personal matter.
The 73-year-old co-founder of the Hawaii Death With Dignity Society has been working to attain such a law for 30 years.
“I’m aging and it’s a very real issue. … When I can no longer take care of myself, it becomes a quality-of-life issue,” Foster said, adding that with no relatives and few close friends, he wonders who would be able to care for him. “I want full control over my end of life as best I can.”
Foster, the recently elected chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Kupuna Caucus, ran on a platform of senior health care and end-of-life issues, including a proposed “death with dignity” law that would allow a doctor to write a prescription for a lethal drug.
The Kupuna Caucus, which represents thousands of senior Democrats and their families across the state, “is powerful in its numbers,” Foster said. “A huge percentage of the Democrat party is seniors — we have the time to make the calls, visit the Capitol and give testimony.”
Time is right
Foster maintains that “the planets are aligned for 2017” for state lawmakers to support the proposed law. He cited several factors, including his election as Kupuna Caucus chairman and strong support in the state Senate.
Sens. Lorraine Inouye, Donovan Dela Cruz and Russell Ruderman introduced Senate Bill 2373 this year as a way to keep the issue at the forefront, but it didn’t receive a hearing. The bill proposed allowing a terminally ill, competent adult of at least 50 years of age to get a lethal dose of medication to end his or her life. But the measure also bans physicians and others from administering mercy killings, lethal injections and active euthanasia.
Last year California became the sixth state to pass a “death with dignity” law. In that case, state lawmakers supported the measure without opposition from the state’s medical association, Foster said, describing the process as a “big breakthrough.”
Foster pointed to the story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard as one that “educated the public worldwide” and put a young face on an issue mostly associated with seniors. In 2014 Maynard moved to Oregon, where the first death with dignity law had passed, because she was dying of brain cancer and decided “not to accept a painful, drawn-out death,” Foster said.
Advocate for decades
Three decades ago, when Foster moved to Hawaii from Oklahoma, he became involved in the assisted-death movement.
“I am gay. I’ve seen a lot of death, probably more than the average straight person, because I lost all of my friends early on. … I lived through the AIDS pandemic and could’ve only prayed that we had this (bill back then),” he said.
“My mother had a horrible death of cancer when I was only 14. I certainly came to understand what a bad death was back then.” Since then, Foster added, “I’ve witnessed so many older people whose quality of life goes to nothing, especially in those last months.”
One of his mentors was Ah Quon McElrath, a labor and social activist who died in 2008.
“Sometimes the control of one’s life is taken completely away from the terminal person. A.Q. McElrath called me a week before she died in the hospital. She said, ‘Foster, you gotta get this bill passed. I’m going just the way I didn’t want to — I’m all plugged into wires and machines and tubes.’”
Foster said, “I don’t want that and A.Q. didn’t want that.”
As a strong advocate for the passage of Hawaii’s marriage equality law in 2013, Foster said he saw the Catholic Church and “right-wing fundamentalist Christians” come out in force in opposition. He expects that both factions — spurred on by religious faith — will also oppose a death with dignity law.
He hopes the typically less conservative interfaith congregations, which have rallied to support the LGBT community, will also get behind a proposed death with dignity law in Hawaii.
Foster plans to present an “On Death With Dignity” resolution at the Hawaii Democratic Party’s state convention, which will get underway May 29. The resolution was adopted by the Oahu County Democratic Convention last month.
More information about the Death With Dignity Society is available online at hawaiidwd society.org.
Companion article HERE
Original article HERE