There’s been so much grief and anger and even noise in our nation since George Floyd died in Minneapolis that I have hesitated even to put down in writing my own reactions. My social media feeds – and I can’t just drop them; they’re integral to my work – leave me feeling alienated and quite inadequate to rise to the occasion we’re in.
I have a couple of things to share with you that I hope you’ll find constructive.
a webinar worth your time
I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a contractor with Cornerstone Action, dealing with legislation and communication. One of my Cornerstone colleagues, who’s on the Cornerstone Policy Research (non-political) side of the organization, facilitated a webinar this week with three Manchester-area pastors. Two are black, one is Hispanic, and each has something to say about his own experience in New Hampshire. This was an eye-opening hour for me.
You can register for the webinar recording at this link, which I believe will expire on or around June 17th.
I’m grateful to pastors Michael Worsley, John Rivera, and Isaiah Martin (a former UNH Wildcat football player, by the way) for their participation.
a thought for future reference
Say what you will about COVID-19 precautions and how they may or may not have been selectively enforced during recent public demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. My own takeaway is this: any response made by government and law enforcement to the peaceful rallies in Mr. Floyd’s memory is equally applicable to rallies and all other peaceful public witness to the dignity of human life, now and in the future, with or without public health emergencies.
It’s good to see how law enforcement was careful to distinguish the recent peaceful demonstration in Manchester’s Stark Park from violent demonstration. Peaceful pro-life witnesses have all heard at one time or another that our very presence creates “an atmosphere of violence.” We know better. Peaceful demonstration, even with an undercurrent of anger, isn’t on a spectrum with violence on the other end. Violence is in a separate dimension all its own.
The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee voted on March 4 to recommend that the full House reject HB 1675, a born-alive infant protection bill. The full House will vote on March 11 or 12.
Embedded in this post is video I took with my phone, from my seat in the front row of the public area. Speaking: Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), committee chair, reading from a paper that I assume she herself wrote. Rep. Smith ain’t buying this born-alive stuff. Sorry, abortion survivors.
Rep. Smith: “There is no such thing as an abortion up until birth.” Fact check: there is such a thing as an attempted abortion resulting in a live birth. Ask Claire Culwell. Ask Melissa Ohden. Ask Gianna Jessen.
Rep. Smith: “The idea that there is a state law to somehow allow a woman to have an abortion as she gives birth is flat out untrue.” Fact check: There is no statutory limit on abortion in New Hampshire in terms of gestational age, and as Rep. Smith knows, every attempt to change that since 1997 has failed. Viability, 20 weeks, whatever: every single New Hampshire bill to limit abortion at any point in pregnancy has failed. By the way, no law is needed “to somehow allow a woman to have an abortion as she gives birth…” That’s thanks to Roe v. Wade, which gave states the option but not the mandate of asserting an interest in preborn children in the later stages of pregnancy. New Hampshire has thus far declined the option.
Rep. Smith: “In February, the United States Senate [took] a similar bill – the United States Senate, the current United States Senate, under the leadership of the Senate Majority Leader, defeated a similar bill.” Fact check: S.311, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), has not yet gotten a direct vote in the Senate. The February vote to which Rep. Smith referred was a vote to end debate so that a direct vote could be taken. A majority of Senators, on a 56-41 vote, voted to end debate – but ending debate requires 60 votes. The bill has not been defeated. Abortion advocates in the Senate refuse to let it come up for a direct up-or-down vote. Those 41 votes came from 1 Independent (Angus King of Maine) and 40 Democrats.
HB 1675-FN is about children who have made it out of the mother’s body alive, one way or another, after attempted abortion. It’s about a duty to care for those children. It’s about imposing sanctions on abortion providers who fail to provide medically appropriate care for such a child, such as would be given to a wanted premie of the same gestational age.
But…”no such thing.”
There will be a floor fight in the House. The House Calendar says the committee vote was 12-7; my own notes from the hearing say 12-8. It was party-line either way.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
Paid employment and blogging-for-the-love-of-it don’t always mix, as attested by the long stretches between posts this year on Leaven. I’ll start my 2019 review with a resolution for 2020: up my game. I’m as grateful for my readers as I am for clients.
In the last few days of the year, I’ll have an update on some New Hampshire life-issue bills filed for 2020. We’ll take a look at state-level races to be decided in next November’s election. I’ll throw in a few save-the-dates for 40 Days for Life activities and similar events. You’ll see links to some useful websites and apps. All this will be posted by midnight on New Year’s Eve, if all goes well.
“A safe harbor for mother and child,” says the organization’s tagline. It’s that, and more: a reminder to me that practical tenacity and seemingly-impractical faith are both essential when human beings are trying to care for each other.
The founders of St. Gianna’s knew they wanted to create a shelter for otherwise-homeless pregnant and parenting women in south-central New Hampshire. They created a board. They raised funds. They had a plan. One thing kept eluding them: an actual facility. The same real estate market that challenges aspiring homeowners in this area challenged the St. Gianna’s team.
2019 saw a breakthrough, with a church in Hudson making an unoccupied building available. To make a long story short – and in the process, to gloss over the efforts of many volunteers – St. Gianna’s Place is now up and running.
I take heart and encouragement from every person who helped make that happen. You can, too.
Read more about St. Gianna’s Place on its website. Maybe you can attend their next banquet; read about the first one here. There will be an ongoing need for donations and volunteers in support of the women and children served at St. Gianna’s Place.
Meeting a human-services need means coming up with more than just good intentions. The team behind St. Gianna’s Place has been up to the challenge.