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. Rep. Charles Weed (D-Keene) has seen the light, allowing his HB 403 to be amended by the House Judiciary committee into a bill to “study end-of-life decisions.” The original bill sought to set up a commission full of “experts” to investigate “death with dignity.” The House passed HB 403 this week, where it awaits a Senate hearing.
Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst), ranking Republican member of the Judiciary committee, wasn’t having any of it. Rowe used to lead Judiciary when the Republicans were in the majority. He is not a man to pick fights. He values collegiality. He also values plain speaking.
At the conclusion of the debate before the February 20 House vote, Rowe spoke up despite Speaker Norelli’s attempt to gavel him down. “The total thrust of this bill is euthanasia.” He is absolutely right. He knows that Rep. Weed has tried twice since 2009 to promote physician-assisted suicide. I consider it unlikely that Weed has abandoned his goal.
The House passed HB 403 on a division vote, 212-140, with no roll call. This comes after inexpedient-to-legislate votes on Weed’s earlier assisted-suicide bills by votes of 242-113 in 2010 and 234-99 in 2011.
Rowe was joined by Rep. (and physician) Joseph Hagan (R-Chester) on the House floor to speak against the bill. They were countered by Rep. Rick Watrous (D-Concord), Judiciary committee member and co-sponsor of the bill, who attempted to allay fears. “This will study end-of-life decisions, including hospice and end-of-life care,” he said. “It’s been awhile since the legislature has looked at this. It’s time to do so again.”
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.
That debate is yet to be joined in full here in New Hampshire, but it’s coming.