SB 490 was gateway to assisted suicide, and the Senate just slammed it shut for now

(Updated to add link to recording of Senate debate and vote.)

On a 12-10 vote, the New Hampshire Senate has killed a bill that would have paved the way for assisted suicide. I did not see that result coming. Thank-yous are in order, including one I didn’t think I’d ever be writing.

Voting “inexpedient to legislate,” sending the bill into the trash heap: Senators Bob Giuda, James Gray, Harold French, Ruth Ward, Gary Daniels, Kevin Avard, John Reagan, Donna Soucy, Regina Birdsell, Chuck Morse, William Gannon, and Dan Innis. If any one of them had voted differently, today’s outcome would have been different.

Yes, that Donna Soucy, godmother of the unenforced buffer zone law. She was the lone Democrat to do the right thing on SB 490. She deserves thanks and respect for today’s vote.

And then there are the senators who wanted to keep the bill out of the trash heap: Jeff Woodburn, Jeb Bradley, David Watters, Martha Hennessey, Andy Sanborn, Jay Kahn, Bette Lasky, Dan Feltes, Kevin Cavanaugh, and Martha Fuller Clark. Bradley and Sanborn were the two Republicans favoring the bill, for those of you tracking such things.

Senators Sharon Carson and Lou D’Allesandro were absent.

Contact information for all senators is here.

The bill was supposedly about studying end of life choices. The sponsor tipped her hand when she introduced the bill in committee and went on to defend assisted suicide, while fervently denying that what she was advocating was suicide. Medical provision of lethal doses of drugs, yes, but not assisted suicide.  She tried to sell that position today, but 12 senators weren’t buying it.

I listened to the debate this morning as a theme gradually emerged: right to life vs. personal autonomy. Where I have I heard that one before? And then there was it’s-just-a-study. Riiiight.

The 12-10 ITL result was a good day’s work. It’s also a clear warning. Assisted-suicide advocates are going to come back in one guise or another, even though this year’s bill is dead. The lines of support and opposition for assisted suicide are going to look different from the ones regarding abortion.  Neutrality will only serve to support the assisted suicide advocates, who want the lethal prescription to be seen as medical treatment.

Maybe some legislators can be persuaded to change their position. Maybe some are adamant. You might want to look into that before the next election.

Celebrate the day’s work. Thank the people who voted ITL. Take a breath. Then be ready for the next round, whenever it comes.

Recording of the debate and vote, from the NH General Court web site: http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00286/Harmony/en/View/RecentEnded/20180109/1024

Go to Feb. 22 recording, click on Agenda tab, and scroll down to SB 490 at time stamp 11:09:27.

 

SB 490: “A Thinly Veiled Effort to Study Assisted Suicide”

Nancy Elliott wasted no time sending a message to the New Hampshire Senate committee considering SB 490, the “end of life” study bill. The bill’s sponsor made her assisted suicide advocacy clear in her own testimony, if not in her bill. Elliott, a former New Hampshire legislator who is now heads up Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – USA, responded with written testimony. It was published in full on EPC’s blog. Here’s an excerpt.

Nancy Elliott (photo by Ellen Kolb)

I am opposed to SB490 because it is a thinly veiled effort to study Assisted Suicide, also known as death with dignity, medical aid in dying, euthanasia and mercy killing, with the intent to legalize it in New Hampshire. Our state has a long standing bipartisan opposition to Assisted Suicide. This practice is discriminatory to the disabled and elderly, sending them the message that they are not as valuable as able bodied people. While young and healthy individuals receive suicide counseling, the elderly, sick and disabled are steered to take their lives.

I know this bill is for a STUDY, but studying things that would be harmful if passed is a waste of taxpayer money and runs the risk of giving legitimacy and momentum to this practice….I believe that this commission is dangerous to our citizens because the report that will come out, will indicate an imaginary mandate for Assisted Suicide.

Read the full post here.

Update: Sponsor Testifies Her “End of Life” Study Bill is About “Medically Assisted Death”

At the February 8 Senate Health and Human Services committee hearing introducing SB 490, Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) spoke in praise of what she called “medically assisted death.” With that, she confirmed that her bill “establishing a commission to study end-of-life choices” would be open to concluding that assisted suicide is an acceptable state policy.

She strenuously objected to the use of the term “assisted suicide” to describe her bill or her goal. She used the words “medically assisted death” again and again.

I say call the bill what it is: a gateway to assisted suicide.

Some of the people at the hearing, including myself, weren’t sure what the Senator had in mind until she made her introductory speech. I give her credit for candor and for clearing up the mystery so quickly.

A representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester testified that if the bill had been what the title indicated, there would have been no cause for concern. In view of the sponsor’s words today, he said, it’s now a different story.

A physician, an advocate for people with brain injuries, and people concerned with disability rights testified about the danger of a public policy that treats suicide as a medical treatment. A young man with Down syndrome spoke against the bill: “Disability is not a fate worse than death!” He knew, as the other speakers opposing the bill know, that normalizing physician-assisted suicide will have far-reaching effects.

Sen. Hennessey professed mystification that anyone could see her bill as a threat to people with disabilities. I will not question her sincerity at this point.

A representative of hospice agencies testified with the disappointing news that after years of resisting proposals that could lead to assisted suicide, her group is now “neutral” on this bill.

No date has been set for the committee vote. The full Senate must act on the bill no later than March 22.

Another “End of Life” Study Bill for N.H.

Another end-of-life study bill is coming to Concord. This year’s version is SB 490, with a dozen co-sponsors led by Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Lebanon). The hearing is Thursday, February 8, at 1:15 p.m. in room 100 of the State House.

I take as skeptical a view of this as I did of earlier “study” bills. Any end-of-life study commission that does not start out by explicitly ruling out assisted suicide as an acceptable policy will only serve to pave the way for an assisted suicide law.

In 2016, the last time such a “study” was introduced, sponsors tipped their hand by including the words “aid in dying” in the bill.  The 2018 version rectifies that tactical error.

I’ll keep an eye on this one.

Massachusetts Considers Assisted Suicide Bill

Assisted suicide is up for discussion again at the Massachusetts State House – for the eighth time, according to the Boston Herald. The Joint Committee on Public Health held a public hearing on September 26 on a pair of bills “relative to end of life options” (H.1194 and S.1225).  I went to Boston to stand alongside Massachusetts residents giving public witness against state-sponsored medically-prescribed killing.

Outreach

I was happy to meet C.J. Williams, a Brighton resident who’s director of outreach and education with Rehumanize International. We had connected online some weeks ago regarding the life issues. She greeted me outside the State House and introduced me to other people who had come to fight the bills. She then spent an hour calmly engaged in sidewalk conversations with people inquiring about the legislation, before she headed into the State House for the hearing.

C.J. Williams of Rehumanize International. (Photos by Ellen Kolb.)
Full House

The hearing room was full, with strong feelings and beliefs evident on all sides. Sponsors and supporters of the bills talked about safeguards, autonomy, choice, and “gentle passing.” That last term was offered by Dan Diaz, widower of Brittany Maynard, now an activist with Compassion and Choices. C&C is the current avatar of what was once the Hemlock Society.

Consequences

The hearing was scheduled to last all afternoon, and I was only able to stay for the first hour. One of the people I heard was Kristine Correira, a physician’s assistant, who warned of the threat posed to Catholic hospitals by the proposed law. She testified that the bills would require health care providers unwilling to participate in assisted suicide to refer patients to other providers – and to pay for the transfer – in violation of the conscience rights of providers opposing medically-prescribed killing. “Is it your intention to close down all the Catholic hospitals?” A fair question, and one which remained unanswered at the time I left.

The Boston Herald’s account of the hearing mentioned testimony from Timothy Shriver, son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. “Beware the law of unintended consequences,” he said. People with disabilities are “vulnerable to the calculations of human values.”

The Hampshire Gazette’s coverage of the hearing included a warning from Jacqueline Rivers, executive director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, about the legislation’s potential effect on people living in poverty. “Poor black and brown people will be affected by the subtleties of societal pressure.”

The Gazette report continued, “[Rivers] said those communities are often underserved already when it comes to palliative and hospice care and the availability of physician-assisted end-of-life options might put pressure on poor families to make a choice not to spend money on treatment and care if this bill were passed.”

By any other name…
Posted in the State House hallway: bills are described as “aid-in-dying.”

On the way to the hearing room, I saw a notice affixed to a wall, pointing the way to the “Aid in Dying” hearing. The bills themselves are titled “End of Life.” One news outlet headlined its coverage with “…bill to allow terminally ill to end their lives peacefully,” while another went with “right to die.” I find “assisted suicide” a more apt term. There was no shortage of names for what was on the table.

At last count, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized assisted suicide.