Pushing back: testimonies against assisted suicide, part 2

Here are some excerpts from press conference and testimony against New Hampshire’s assisted suicide bill, HB 1659. Find part 1 at this link.

Gary Cahoon, owner of assisted living facility

…The current state of palliative care is such that people need not die in pain. None of our residents have ever expressed a regret that they had not had the opportunity to kill themselves at an earlier time.

Aside from death, another unpleasant aspect of life that we have had to deal with is family members who exploit, abuse or neglect a vulnerable person. We have taken in frail elderly people from truly horrific households.  Financial exploitation, however, is much more common than outright abuse. I think for example of the nephew who got his aunt to grant him a financial power of attorney in exchange for a candy bar. I have no doubt that some of the abusers I have dealt with would have readily attempted to persuade or coerce their family member into suicide if they benefited as a result. We should not give the potential abuser one more tool to exploit the vulnerable.

As healthcare providers, my wife and I feel that it is our duty and our mission to help our residents achieve the best possible quality of life and not to help them end their lives. The door to assisted suicide is one which, we believe, should never be opened.

(Mr. Cahoon and his wife own Friendship Manor, an assisted living home in New Ipswich.)

Gary Cahoon of Friendship Manor in New Ipswich, speaking in opposition to HB 1659.

Nancy Elliott, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA

In her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Nancy Elliott – former state representative from Merrimack, who once served on the committee herself – took on the references within HB 1659-FN to “mental anguish” and “embarrassing indignities.”

This sounds like a disability. Before I lost my husband, that was the description of him. It is cruel for the state to say that someone like my husband should not want to live and be pushed toward suicide.

Steven Wade, Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire

As you may be aware, suicide has reached epidemic proportions in our state, [with] the number of suicides nearly doubling in NH in the last 10 years. NH DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] and suicide prevention organizations are working hard to implement a new program of “Zero Suicides” in New Hampshire, along with renewed focus on “Help Seeking”.

HB 1659 is an affront and a contradiction to these suicide prevention efforts and to all the hard work by so many suicide prevention advocates and volunteers in NH.

We will argue that instead of legalizing assisted suicide as medical care, we should be working to greatly expand funding and access to palliative and mental care for those most-at risk for suicide in our state – persons living with life-long disability, veterans living with TBI and PTSD,
at-risk teens, first responders, and elders vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This also includes many of NH’s low income citizens and persons on Medicaid and under managed care, who do not have access to needed palliative and mental health care.

Steven Wade is executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, and facilitator for the Coalition Against State-Approved Suicide.

Pushing back: testimonies against assisted suicide, part 1

New Hampshire’s assisted suicide bill for the 2020 legislative session will get its first test on March 4 when the House Judiciary Committee votes on HB 1659-FN. In New Hampshire, no bill can be killed in committee, but the committee’s recommendation will be highly influential when the full House votes later in March.

What follows in this post, to be continued in a second post later, are excerpts from a press conference and testimony in opposition to HB 1659-FN. As part of the Coalition Against State-Approved Suicide (CAS-AS NH), I worked with several of the people who are quoted here. Learned from them, too. Perhaps you will as well.

The Safford Family

Lori Safford and her sons Samuel and Ben, all New Hampshire residents, each testified to the committee.

LORI

I’m here to oppose HB 1659. Eight years ago my children and I arrived home to find my husband dead in his office. He was only 53. My teenage daughter fell into a deep depression….

Despite 6 months of counseling, I received a call at 2am from her closest friend telling me to go check on her. I found her with a bottle of pills and a knife. She was on the phone with a suicide hotline. Losing her dad and having 2 brothers with a terminal illness was just too much for her. 

Fortunately, we found a new counselor and she worked through the pain and sadness. I couldn’t imagine losing her to suicide. Suicide is final, there are no do-overs.

[Now she is] a Junior at Biola University in California and is on the Dean’s list. She is a strong, bright, talented young lady who loves her life and is doing great things…

Life is a gift from God and yet pain and suffering are a normal part of human existence. Suffering is a gift that helps us connect with others and to grow in love and compassion for our fellow man. Please vote no on HB 1659.

BEN

Assisted Suicide is not medical care. Medical care is defined as the maintenance or improvement of health. Medical professionals should do their utmost to preserve life, not end it.

I have a terminal illness called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and I suffer with physical weakness, discomfort and the loss of my independence every day. Despite these circumstances, I have enjoyed life to the fullest and have achieved success beyond my wildest expectations.

I have not lost a shred of dignity because of my circumstances. And I believe I would lose dignity if I gave up. How would killing myself give me dignity?…

The legislature of NH should reject HB 1659 as an offense against human dignity. I certainly do!

SAMUEL

I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I don’t believe this bill should be passed because assisted suicide is no better than regular suicide. In fact, it’s far worse because a person who is obligated to help you is actually causing you harm. 

…I don’t say this lightly, because at one point I wanted to end my life. Before I could, I realized that I would be making a big mistake. People who want to end their lives often just need help and encouragement. They may think they have become burdens to their families, but I say that no human life is a burden because we are all created with unique abilities.

…The right to die can often become the duty to die. Family members can learn much by taking care of a person with a terminal illness. They can learn compassion, love and gratitude which would be lost if their family member decided to go through with physician-assisted suicide. 

The will to live is where dignity is truly shown, not in the right to die. I believe this bill should not be passed because every life has value despite our pain and suffering.

Lisa Beaudoin, ABLE-NH

…The ongoing devaluation of the lives of people with disabilities is at the heart of HB 1659 no matter how uncomfortable it is to hear me say it. Embedded in the assisted suicide debate is a grimly veiled, ableist narrative which implies that disability is a fate worse than death. The “medical model of disability” which says that disability is a defect, a loss of dignity,  a burden to fixed or eliminated, leaving people with disabilities feeling that they are not quite worthy.   

Lisa Beaudoin of ABLE-NH at press conference with opponents of NH assisted suicide bill
Lisa Beaudoin, ABLE-NH, at press conference with opponents of assisted suicide bill HB 1659.

The statement of purpose in HB 1659 slaps the faces of people with disabilities who depend on others for care, the language itself devalues the experience of people with disabilities. It reduces dependence to indignity.  Elected officials, what sort of message are you sending to people who use wheelchairs? Need help with bathing or feeding? Or who are incontinent?  What sort of message are you sending to people who live their everyday lives with support?  

…Abuse of people with disabilities is a growing problem, making coercion virtually impossible to identify or prevent.  The option of assisted suicide is a scary mix with our broken, for-profit health care system and a cultural narrative which says that disability is bad.    The option of assisted suicide means some people will get suicide prevention while others get suicide assistance, and the difference between the two groups is the health status of the individual and their access to appropriate healthcare, leading to a two-tiered system that results in death to the socially devalued group.  Isn’t that discrimination?

…The state of NH cannot legitimize the devaluation of people with disabilities through the ugly, false ableist rhetoric of “death with dignity” legislation.  In its language, HB 1659 is in opposition to advancing justice for people with disabilities.

(Ms. Beaudoin is the executive director of ABLE-NH [Advocates Building Lasting Equality], advocating for the civil and human rights of children and adults with disabilities.)

Marc Guillemette, Catholic Medical Center

…New Hampshire is in the midst of a suicide crisis.  In 2018 the Center for Disease Control reported that from 1999 to 2016, suicide rates in New Hampshire increased by 48.3%, which was the third highest increase in the country.  If that is not alarming enough, the data regarding youth suicide in New Hampshire is even more troubling.  Like the rest of the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals under 24 years old.  But New Hampshire rates are 50% higher than the national average, and they continue to rise.  In 2017 and 2018 suicide deaths were the highest in two decades among New Hampshire young people.  New Hampshire officials have called it a public health crisis!

The staff of Catholic Medical Center has witnessed firsthand the devastation of suicide.  Our physicians have had to tell parents that their child had died as a result of suicide thus shattering their lives forever.  As a chaplain at CMC and in my professional career, I have had to comfort parents in the midst of their tears they asked why their child had committed suicide.  Those encounters will haunt me forever.

We at CMC have grave concerns that the State of New Hampshire with this proposed physician assisted law will be saying that in “some” cases suicide is “okay” or “permitted.”  It is no coincidence that the suicide rates in the United States began to rise in 1999 when Oregon was the first state to legalize Physician Assisted Suicide….

House bill 1659-N will have a negative impact on New Hampshire’s efforts to address the suicide crisis, for how can we attempt to prevent youth suicide, while declaring with this proposed law that suicide is a valid way to solve the problems of those who have a terminal illness.  Those problems — all of them, including terminal illness — have better and more life-affirming solutions.  

(Mr. Guillemette is the Director of the Office of Catholic Identity at CMC in Manchester.)

Part 2 is here. The NH House Judiciary Committee will accept messages on HB 1659 up until its March 4 vote: HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.

Assisted suicide bill gets House hearing February 12

A New Hampshire assisted suicide bill will have its first public hearing on Wednesday, February 12, at 1 p.m. Like several other 2020 bills affecting the right to life, HB 1659-FN will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee in Representatives Hall.

If you don’t think assisted suicide should be considered a form of medical care, the committee needs to hear from you. Coming to the hearing will be worthwhile, if only to sign in against the bill. There’s a strong coalition coming together to fight HB 1659-FN, so you’ll be in good company.

One of the things that bothers me about this bill is its abuse of the English language. The bill allows for “a prescription for lethal medication which will allow the patient, if the patient chooses to do so, to self-administer and thus control the time, place, and manner of death.” Five pages later, this: “Actions taken in accordance with this chapter shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide, under the law.”

Go figure.

For a summary of the problems the bill would cause, let me direct you to Cornerstone Action’s post “Caring, Not Killing.” (Full disclosure: I’m a communications consultant for Cornerstone.) In brief:

  • Assisted suicide laws exploit medically vulnerable individuals.
  • Passing an assisted suicide law sends a confounding and false message to anyone considering suicide: your life is only as valuable as you think it is.
  • Passage of an assisted suicide law, however carefully drawn, will open the door to wider use. There is no way to make assisted suicide into a form of “medical care” without opening it up to anyone who wants it, with or without a terminal condition.

Read the full post here.

I will attend the HB 1659-FN hearing on Cornerstone’s behalf. Come say hi and pick up a sticker.

N.H. Coalition Against State-Approved Suicide sticker
The N.H. Coalition Against State-Approved Suicide will have these stickers available at the hearing on HB 1659-FN.

Physicians’ Group Warns AAFP Is Advocating for Assisted Suicide

In a recent email update from the American Academy of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, AAPLOG warned of a recent move by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

The AAFP, one of the largest groups within the AMA [American Medical Association], is now advocating for and, pushing for AMA to accept, Physician Assisted Suicide  (see AAFP reference committee report)  AAFP members should make their voice known NOW to AAFP  (also here for local chapters) and call for reevaluation and repeal of that recommendation.

Hippocratic physicians should also pay close attention to the situation in Canada, recently forcing all Canadian physicians to perform or refer for physician assisted suicide.  This decision was imposed on Canadian physicians through a Supreme Court decision, and not by public referendum, much as abortion was forced on the US population via Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton.  As is clear in both Ireland and Canada,  referral is a professional participation in the activity referred for.   Hippocratic physicians will not perform or refer for the destruction of their patients.

Please, take the time to click through on the links. Then, if you’ve entrusted your family’s medical care to physicians who are members of AAFP, you might want to ask them if AAFP is speaking for them.

I see this on the same day as I’ve listened to Kristen Hansen of the Patients Rights Action Fund speak about the illness and death of her husband, J.J. Hansen, and how they worked together to oppose assisted suicide as a way of coping with terminal illness. She carries on that life-affirming message even now. What a contrast to what some doctors are supporting.

The AAFP recommendation calls for treating assisted suicide as an ethical decision to be made within the doctor-patient relationship – meaning no oversight and accountability – and it calls for legal shielding of any physician participating in assisted suicide. It also calls for abandoning the term “assisted suicide” in favor of the term “medical aid in dying.”

Think about that last bit. Now you know what language will be in the next assisted suicide bill in New Hampshire. None is in the works, but that could change with the next round of legislative service requests.

And then there’s this from AAFP: they are resolved to be “neutral” on medical aid in dying.

Kind of like the New Hampshire Medical Society is neutral on abortion – “we take no position,” assures the kindly NHMS lobbyist – while showing up to oppose bills like informed consent and prevention of coerced abortions.

During one such hearing last year, the kindly NHMS doctor sighed and told the committee that he was afraid there were some people in the room who didn’t trust doctors.

If he thinks some people don’t trust physicians now, wait until assisted suicide enters the picture.

Palliative care can be complex – far more complex than a single prescription. Having a chronic disability means complex arrangements for appropriate support. Killing is always cheaper than caring. When assisted suicide is legally available, whoever’s paying the bills won’t have much incentive to encourage the use of palliative care by people facing a terminal diagnosis or supportive care for people with disabilities.

The AMA as a whole hasn’t caved in, yet. AAFP is only one group within the association. The Patients Rights Action Fund reported a bit of encouraging news just this week: the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has recommended that the AMA continue to oppose assisted suicide.

Find more life-affirming inspiration in videos from the Patients Rights Action Fund.

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.