“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.

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.

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