The Works of Mercy ministry at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish in Rochester, New Hampshire has put together another program (they’re good at this sort of thing) exploring the life issues. This time, the topic is assisted suicide and euthanasia, which threaten the very nature of end-of-life care.
Two of the five speakers are well-known to me: Nancy Elliott is the director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA, and Kurt Wuelper is a state representative. Nancy is a neighbor of mine, a former state rep, and I don’t think anyone in this neck of the woods knows more than she does about the status of end-of-life legislation nationwide. Kurt has proven adept at one of the harder political jobs: not just getting elected, but getting RE-elected. Kurt is on one of the toughest committees in Concord: House Judiciary, where he is a voice of reason.
This should be a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday. Details as I’ve been advised:
Where: Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church, 189 N. Main Street, Rochester NH
When: Saturday, March 18, 2017, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Schedule: For those who wish, there will be a Mass at 8:00 a.m. All conference participants are welcome to breakfast during registration time beginning at 8:30. The conference begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.
Cost & Registration: $15, with scholarships available; payment by March 15 is appreciated. Make out checks to OLHR, and mail them with registration form (linked above) to Works of Mercy c/o OLHR, 189 N. Main Street, Rochester NH 03867.
For more information, contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spread the word, especially to your friends on the Seacoast and in Strafford County.
(h/t to the Diocese of Manchester and the Catholic Education Resource Center for bringing this to my attention.)
Assisted suicide is now legal in California. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles is not mincing words as he responds to this human rights disaster. His inspiring statement is full of challenge and resolve. A few excerpts:
With the new “End of Life Options” law we are crossing a line — from being a society that cares for those who are aging and sick to a society that kills those whose suffering we can no longer tolerate.
Our government leaders tell us that granting the right to choose a doctor-prescribed death is compassionate and will comfort the elderly and persons facing terminal and chronic illness.
But killing is not caring. True compassion means walking with those who are suffering, sharing their pain, helping them bear their burdens. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not a duty we fulfill by giving our neighbor a lethal dose of pills.
Assisted suicide represents a failure of solidarity and will only increase the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people already feel in our society. With this new law, we are abandoning our most vulnerable and frail neighbors — dismissing them as “not worthy” of our care and as a “drain” on our limited social resources.
…The proper response to an unjust law is conscientious objection. And this is an unjust law.
…A person does not stop being a person, does not lose his or her dignity or right to life — just because he or she loses certain physical or mental capacities. Indeed, it is when people are most vulnerable that they are most in need of our compassion and love.
The Patients Rights Council newsletter provides a fine quarterly update on end-of-life legislation and its effects on people who are medically vulnerable. Their latest newsletter (viewable as a PDF) includes a summary of the most recent annual report from the Oregon Public Health Division about deaths prescribed and committed under the state’s so-called “death with dignity” act.
See page 3 of the PRC newsletter – and by the way, look at the data for “patients’ reasons for requesting assisted suicide” and see how far down the list you find “inadequate pain control” – and look at what the OPHD report doesn’t say. From the PRC update:
“…it’s the ‘unknown’ statistic that is most significant. In 98 cases – that’s 74% of all the reported 2015 prescribed-suicide deaths – the OPHD doesn’t know if anyone was present at the most critical time in the whole assisted suicide process, when the patient takes the lethal drugs. That means that the OPHD has no clue if the patient took the deadly dose voluntarily (as required by the assisted suicide law), or if it was disguised in food and unwittingly consumed by the patient, or if the patient was forced to take the drugs (the last two actions being clearly illegal).”
Earlier this year when SB 426 was introduced in the new Hampshire Senate, I asked Nancy Elliott about the bill. Nancy is a team member with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and is a former New Hampshire state representative.
“The bill talks about end of life choices, but singles out ‘aid-in-dying’“
Q: What’s wrong with simply studying end-of-life issues? How is that related to assisted suicide legislation?
Elliott: We have studied this topic extensively in New Hampshire. This bill [in its original form, without the proposed House amendment] talks about end of life choices, but singles out “Aid in Dying” – a euphemism for assisted suicide and euthanasia. It is apparent that the “choice” that this bill wants to promote is suicide. By rolling this into a commission stacked with pro-euthanasia people, this idea can be foisted on the citizens of New Hampshire. It gives a platform for pro-assisted suicide/euthanasia advocates to have a platform to push this with.Continue reading A veteran NH prolifer on end-of-life-study bill: “just a Trojan horse”→
The New Hampshire House Judiciary committee will hold a hearing on SB 426 on Tuesday, March 29. Here comes another attempt to soften up the Granite State for assisted suicide.
Does suicide advocacy belong in public policy? Is it a matter of indifference? (And if so, why are New Hampshire schools charged with making sure that suicide prevention is part of any health curriculum?) I say suicide advocacy is NOT a matter of indifference and does NOT belong in public policy. I’m therefore suspicious of yet another study bill that doesn’t at the outset rule out consideration of assisted suicide or active euthanasia.
“New Hampshire advocates of physician-assisted suicide have finally learned what some public-policy activists never figure out: sometimes it’s more productive to go after a big goal one little slice at a time.” I wrote that four years ago when the New Hampshire legislature considered a bill to study aid-in-dying. Now, savvy enough to substitute “end-of-life choices” for “aid in dying” in the title, assisted suicide advocates are back for another try. They are joined by some representatives and senators who are normally sensible about the life issues. I see trouble, no matter who’s on the sponsor list.
The goal of the “end-of-life choices study commission,” according to the bill, would be this: “The commission’s study shall include, but not be limited to, reviewing [New Hampshire’s advance directives law], investigating the positive and negative effects of legislation in states that have enacted aid in dying laws, innovation practices of other states, how to encourage careful and responsible deliberation about this issue, and any other matter the commission deems relevant to its objective.”
You’ll note that the sponsors have kept “aid-in-dying” out of the title but have used it very deliberately in the text of the bill. That’s no accident or oversight.
What has changed since the last time the legislature “looked at this”? In a word, money. The legislature should not be open to everything. It ought to come down hard & fast against any move toward legalizing physician-assisted suicide. If that option is on the table, in a world of spiraling health care costs, it will prove irresistible. Care is expensive; ending it is cheap.
When Governor Hassan to her credit vetoed a similar bill last year, she did so at least in part because she was concerned about the makeup of the proposed study commission: all legislators. This year’s bill attempts to allay the governor’s concerns by requiring that the commission include two “religious leaders” – I have no idea how that’s defined – to be appointed by legislators. The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire will have a seat at the table. So will representatives of the New Hampshire Medical Society, a hospice organization, and the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire. An elder law attorney will be in the mix, along with four legislators.
Somehow, that list doesn’t make me feel better.
Legislatively, assisted suicide and euthanasia should be off the table from the very start, explicitly, with no wiggle room. SB 426 fails that standard. The bill has already passed the Senate – on a voice vote, no less.
Last year’s study bill (HB 151) vetoed by Governor Hassan was supported by a majority of the House, although not by the two-thirds majority that would have been necessary for an override. The same House members are in place this year.
“Got Second Thoughts?” Those simple black & white lapel stickers were a welcome sight as I found my way with hundreds of other people to the Massachusetts Legislative hearing on assisted suicide earlier this week. A little later, someone handed me a sticker with “1991” – the bill number – with a slash through it. I was pleased to wear both.
Also on display, albeit not on me, were colorful stickers with the Compassion and Choices logo: “my life, my death, my dignity.” (“Compassion and Choices”: thereby hangs a tale.)
What I saw and heard on Beacon Hill this week is very similar to what I’ve heard at other hearings in Concord and Hartford over the past year or two. What startled me, and made me very glad I showed up to resist H. 1991, was the intensity and optimism of assisted suicide advocates who are not taking the concerns of disability-rights activists seriously.
Nancy Elliott said it well. A former New Hampshire state representative who now works against euthanasia and assisted-suicide initiatives, she counseled some opponents of the bill just before the hearing: “You have to work ten times harder than you think you do” in opposing assisted suicide. “This is never finished.”
I was present for only the first couple of hours of the hearing, which was scheduled to go on for at least two hours after that. I offer here some of my impressions. This is an incomplete account; I’m leaving out too many names and too many good points that were made – the risk of elder abuse, the discrimination caused by the better-dead-than-disabled mentality, the fallacy of thinking that a decision to die affects only the person making it. Every speaker I heard lent force to Nancy’s warning that this is never finished.
It helps to know the right people: as in my home state, legislators in Massachusetts are accorded the privilege of testifying first on bills, ahead of members of the general public. Some of the legislators brought members of the public to testify alongside them – a handy way to jump the queue.
When is suicide not suicide? One of the first people to testify – I failed to note if he was one of the sponsors – asserted that using the word “suicide” to describe self-administered death is a religious concept, and therefore the word “suicide” doesn’t belong in legislation. (“Aid in dying” was the preferred term used by the bill’s sponsors.) Nicole Stacy of the Family Institute of Connecticut countered this a few minutes later by saying, “My own definition of suicide comes from a standard dictionary, not the Bible.”
More of the same: three women testified as representatives of the National Association of Social Workers, all in favor of H. 1991, although they vigorously rejected the term “assisted suicide.” The principal spokeswoman stressed that in the view of NASW, “This is not euthanasia. This is not suicide.” She said that when the organization’s board took a vote on what position to take on this issue, “the right to self-determination outweighed all other arguments.”
Social workers approve of informed consent except when they don’t: When one of the women speaking on behalf of NASW mentioned that self-determination at end-of-life was comparable to self-determination in women’s reproductive health, a member of the committee spoke up. First, he read aloud the informed-decision language in H. 1991. You’re OK with that? The NASW rep said yes. So, continued the rep, how about putting that kind of language into effect for abortion? No, no, no, was the reply. “That wouldn’t be appropriate. It [presumably, the right to abort] is the law of the land.” There was no time for the follow-up I wanted the rep to ask: So what will happen to informed consent once so-called “aid in dying” is the law of the land?
Mixed message: Senator Denise Provost spoke briefly but forcefully. “State sanctioned assisted suicide is not a path this Commonwealth should go down.” She then asked her colleagues to consider the inconsistency of working to eliminate suicide among young people while encouraging suicide for other populations.
“Terminal”: H. 1991, as with most assisted-suicide legislation, is supposedly only for people who are “terminally ill.” “Does anyone in this room believe doctors are infallible?” asked John Kelly of Second Thoughts Massachusetts. (See his testimony on New Hampshire’s 2014 assisted suicide bill for more about how Second Thoughts got its name: “the more people learn about assisted suicide, the more they oppose it.”) He noted that thousands of Americans every year outlive “terminal” diagnoses. One of them is JJ Hanson of the Patients Rights Action Fund, who testified after Kelly. Hanson is surviving glioblastoma (the same kind of brain cancer that killed Maggie Karner and that prompted Brittany Maynard to commit suicide) after receiving a “terminal” diagnosis. “I fortunately did not listen to my doctors.” He acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy, with times when he had trouble walking, talking, and even getting out of bed. He said candidly that if a bill like H. 1991 had been in effect during the most severe phase of his illness, he would have asked himself if ending his life would be easier. “I would not be speaking to you today. You can’t go back from that decision [suicide].” He said the Patients Rights Council is “opposed to making suicide the norm for terminally ill patients.”
“This misinformed movement:” Four Worcester County physicians testified as a single panel in opposition to H. 1991. Dr. Paul Carpentier, calling assisted-suicide promotion “this misinformed movement,” said “society should not want doctors to be involved in killing. The principle that physicians should not kill their patients is foundational.” He and his colleagues all warned about allowing the insurance industry to treat prescribed death as a medical treatment. Dr. Laura Lambert said that would create a “death panel in a bottle.” Dr. Mark Rollo: “This bill will put pressure on the vulnerable to choose death.” Dr. William Lawton was the last in the quartet to speak. He said he was speaking for the American College of Physicians in calling H. 1991 “dangerous to doctors and patients. This is not about our patients’ right to die, but about doctors’ right to kill. The safeguards [in the bill] are an illusion.”