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.

 

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.

Filed So Far: Some Bills for 2018

More than 800 bills have been filed so far by New Hampshire legislators for 2018. Here are a few on which I’ll be reporting, with links to the texts of the bill where available. The Senate hasn’t released all its bill requests yet, so watch for updates in future posts.

HB 1707: The “Abortion Information Act,” requiring the physician who performs an abortion, or the referring physician, to provide the pregnant woman with certain information at least 24 hours prior to the abortion, and to obtain her consent that she has received such information. Sponsors: Reps. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Victoria Sullivan (R-Manchester), Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield), and Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester).

HB 1680: The “Viable Fetus Protection Act,” to restrict post-viability abortions. Sponsors: Reps. Keith Murphy (R-Bedford), Mark Pearson (R-Hampstead), Jeanine Notter, and Victoria Sullivan.

HB 1721: to prevent coerced abortions. Sponsors: Reps. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford), Mark Pearson, Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield), Dan Itse (R-Fremont), Jeanine Notter, Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), Duane Brown (R-Wentworth), and Carl Seidel (R-Nashua).

LSR 2222 (no bill number assigned yet), relative to conscience rights for medical professionals. Sponsors: Reps. Kathleen Souza, Dan Itse, Al Baldasaro, Jeanine Notter, Linda Gould (R-Bedford), James Spillane (R-Deerfield), Kurt Wuelper, Carl Seidel, Jess Edwards (R-Auburn), and Mark Pearson.

HB 1511: amending the fetal homicide law to make it effective at 8 weeks of pregnancy (instead of the 20-week standard in the law signed by Gov. Sununu earlier this year), and removing the law’s exemptions for actions performed by, or at the direction of, the pregnant woman. (I’ll have plenty to say about this one after New Year’s Day, and I doubt I’ll please the sponsors.) Sponsors: Reps. Kurt Wuelper, Linda Gould, Al Baldasaro, Kathleen Souza, Jeanine Notter, and Dan Itse.

HB 1503: authorizing minors 16 years of age and over to independently consent to medical procedures. Sponsor: Rep. Caleb Dyer (L-Pelham).

HB 1671: abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire. Sponsors: Reps. Delmar Burridge (D-Keene), Caleb Dyer, Ellen Read (D-Newmarket), and Donovan Fenton (D-Keene).

LSR 2748 (no bill number assigned yet): establishing a committee to study end-of-life choices. Sponsors: Sens. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) , Bette Lasky (D-Nashua), David Watters (D-Dover), Dan Feltes (D-Concord), Jay Kahn (D-Keene), Kevin Cavanaugh (D-Manchester), and Reps. James MacKay (D-Concord) and Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom).

“End of life” in the title, “aid in dying” in the text: beware SB 426

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. 

Something else I wrote four years ago still holds true:

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.

[Links to contact information for House Judiciary members]

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.

FYI, here’s last year’s vote on the veto override on 2015’s HB 151. The “nays” are the state reps who recognized the danger of an end-of-life study committee. The Senate had no roll call on the bill.

 

 

 

 

 

Busy day in Concord starts with end-of-life bill

End-of-life; smoothing the way for telemed abortions; making oral contraceptives available over the counter (and maybe undercutting the HHS mandate on the way); demanding transparency from insurers: welcome to Tuesday at the State House in Concord. Hearings will begin this morning on these bills.

HB 151:  establishing a committee to study end-of-life decisions

In 2013, Governor John Lynch vetoed a bill to set up a committee to study “end-of-life decisions.” The bill had originated as a straight-up assisted suicide bill before being amended into what the sponsor hoped would be a noncontroversial baby step forward. I noted at the time that Rep. Robert Rowe was not fooled. He spoke to his colleagues briefly and forcefully during the floor debate, saying “The total thrust of this bill is euthanasia.”

New session, new sponsor: House Bill 151 has been brought forward by Rep. Larry Phillips (D-Keene). The bill has no co-sponsors at this time. Rep. Phillips wants to commission six state representatives and one state senator to study end-of-life decisions, with the bill to become effective upon passage and a committee report due November 1.

The committee, should it be formed, would be tasked with (but not limited to) “investigating the positive and negative effects of legislation in states that have enacted aid in dying laws, innovation practices of other states, specifically Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California, how to encourage careful and responsible deliberation about this complex and emotional issue, and any other matter the committee deems relevant to its objective.

Rep. Rowe had it right in 2013. His words are just as apt now.

SB 36: making oral contraceptives available without a prescription

This one comes from Senator Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford). Interesting. I had two thoughts when I heard about this bill: Culturally, it’s wretched. Politically, it has one potential good effect: it could weaken the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.

If oral contraceptives are available without a prescription – behind the counter, under the terms of Sen. Sanborn’s bill, rather than over the counter – they won’t be covered under anyone’s health insurance prescription drug plan. Anyone wanting to consume an oral contraceptive would pay for it herself, or receive it under a Title X family planning subsidy. That’s how things stood before August 2012, when the creaking leviathan known as Obamacare began imposing what was then known as the HHS mandate.

Obamacare classifies suppression of female fertility as a public-health priority, to the extent of treating it as “preventive care.” We are all therefore mandated to pay for it in our health insurance plans, and most business owners are required to include it in any health insurance plan offered to employees, irrespective of religious beliefs about the immorality of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. Remember, the Hobby Lobby case was very narrow. Many other Americans are still in court defending their right not to pay for someone else’s contraception.

If SB 36 were to pass, it wouldn’t affect shots or implants or IUDs. The contraceptive mandate would still exist, as long as there’s public policy in place that treats women’s fertility as something to be prevented. Title X would still exist, with tax-funded block grants going to states for “family planning” excluding surgical abortion.

I wonder what non-prescription birth control pills would mean for agencies like Planned Parenthood. Is it safe to assume that the cost of the drugs would go down, if they were available without prescription? Would the agencies pass on those savings to clients? Would they not need quite so much Title X money to do the same job they’re doing now? Or would the agencies shift to a medical model relying more on implanted drugs, keeping the mandate as a cash cow?

Let’s see who shows up to testify on this one.

SB 42: relative to employee notification of contraceptive coverage

If SB 42 passes, and if you’re an employer who offers health insurance as an employee benefit, you have to tell your employees about contraceptive coverage and what contraceptives might not be covered.

“Such notice shall be prominently displayed on the face of any written application for employment …[and] where such employer maintains a publicly accessible Internet webpage that provides information on prospective employment opportunities, the employer shall provide clear and conspicuous notice on the webpage as to whether the employer provides contraceptive coverage and, if so, whether such coverage includes some, but not all, contraceptive drugs and devices or their generic equivalent approved by the FDA.”

Fine. We’ll inch toward transparency in our insurance policies even if we have to rely on Hobby Lobby opponents to do it. This bill is sponsored by Senators David Pierce (D-Lebanon) and Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth), who are fuming at the very narrow victory won at the Supreme Court by the owners of Hobby Lobby, who objected to covering four out of the twenty methods of FDA-approved contraception.

Of course, transparency isn’t the sponsors’ goal here. It’s simply a means to a couple of ends. One end is to embarrass employers who would rather stay out of their employees’ sex lives. Another is to make abortion and birth control indistinguishable and equally desirable under public policy. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected only to helping provide four methods of “birth control” that are known to induce abortions. The Supreme Court OK’d that narrow exception for that one type of business (closely-held). That’s apparently going too far, in the eyes of Senators Pierce and Clark.

SB 84, relative to the definition of “telemedicine”

Telemedicine – the use of electronic media like video conferencing for the purpose of diagnosis, consultation or treatment – is going to be extraordinarily valuable. It holds great promise for mental health treatment, among other things, and mental health treatment was the focus of a New Hampshire study committee on telemedicine. SB 84 has been drafted in the wake of the committee’s recommendations.

A New Hampshire telemedicine law will be just as useful for abortion providers who have been impatient to start dispensing abortion-inducing pills remotely. Telemed abortions are already being done elsewhere in the country. It’s neither good medicine nor good social policy to suppress telemedicine simply because abortion providers want to use it. As with SB 36, though, it’ll be interesting to see who testifies on this one.