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.


 

Next Stop For Assisted Suicide Legislation: Massachusetts

“This is life-or-death, people. Solidarity.”

John Kelly of Not Dead Yet has made his way to a lot of places – including New Hampshire’s State House – to fight assisted suicide bills. He has had to fight in his own home state, Massachusetts. He’s been successful. And still, the bills keep coming back. September 26 in Boston: I’ll be there.

From John Kelly’s recent Facebook post:

Massachusetts State House, Boston.

ASSISTED SUICIDE HEARING! Tuesday, September 26th, 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., Massachusetts State House. The Joint Committee on Public Health will be having a public hearing on assisted suicide bills H. 1194 /S.1225.
We win when we show up. All devalued communities are under threat: disabled people, people of color, old people, ill people, LGBTQ people, poor people, autistic people, people experiencing depression, abused people, and more. Even wealthy people are endangered because family might care more about inheriting an estate than caring for a seriously ill person. And everyone is at risk for misdiagnosis.
We need you to come testify for 3 minutes, or come and support people who are testifying . Everyone who comes will be making a difference!
Wealthy proponent group [C]ompassion & [C]hoices thinks they can pass the bill. Let’s say different with people power!
This is life-or-death, people. Solidarity.

Solidarity is right. I’ve worked against such bills in Concord. I’ve traveled to Boston and Hartford to stand by New England neighbors tackling their own state’s bills. The victories, meaning the defeats of assisted suicide legislation, happen after hearing rooms fill up with people who hate the better-dead-than-disabled ethic.

John wrote, we win when we show up. True, as is the reverse: the day we don’t show up is the day we lose.


 

Charlie Gard’s Human Rights

And now for something completely different, after a month filled with New Hampshire posts.

Read this from Aleteia: “Charlie Gard case raises questions about medical treatment and parental rights.”

Charlie Gard is an infant who at this writing is in a hospital in London, England. He was born severely ill with a “rare, fatal condition” (quoting the Aleteia post).

Charlie’s parents want to bring him to the United States for an experimental therapy. They are prepared to pay for the treatment. There’s just one catch: the hospital won’t release their baby to them, and the hospital’s been backed up by the European Court of Human Rights.

Time to let the little tyke “die with dignity,” say the experts. Reportedly, the hospital is now free to remove whatever life support is being used for Charlie’s benefit.

I believe that there is such a thing as burdensome care, and no one has a moral obligation to accept it. I also believe that when a government tells parents that they can’t take their sick child for care at a facility that’s not under the control of that government, something’s very wrong.

I have to wonder: if the parents wanted to hasten their son’s death via active euthanasia, would the hospital and the Court be resisting them?

This is a terrible situation, though I won’t say “terrible case” because Charlie’s a child, not a case. No happy outcome is likely, by any earthly measure. Aggravating the situation is the fact that it’s now been established that in England, a government-run health care facility can deny custody of a disabled child to parents who are willing and able to seek treatment for that child.

That’s enough to give government-run health care a bad name. One may hope such decisions would never be made here. I suspect Charlie’s parents didn’t think it would happen in England.