Update on HB 1659, introduced earlier this year in the New Hampshire House: this assisted suicide bill was sent to interim study. That’s the good news: it won’t become law in 2020.
Now for the other news: its originating committee can still recommend whether such legislation should be considered in the future. The House Judiciary Committee will have a public work session online on Tuesday, September 1, at 10:00 a.m. to consider that question.
While this is not a public hearing, it is a public meeting. Anyone is free to listen. Anyone wishing to send the committee comments, or re-send them, can email them to HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
Here are some excerpts from press conference and testimony against New Hampshire’s assisted suicide bill, HB 1659. Find part 1 at this link.
Gary Cahoon, owner of assisted living facility
…The current state of palliative care is such that people need not die in pain. None of our residents have ever expressed a regret that they had not had the opportunity to kill themselves at an earlier time.
Aside from death, another unpleasant aspect of life that we have had to deal with is family members who exploit, abuse or neglect a vulnerable person. We have taken in frail elderly people from truly horrific households. Financial exploitation, however, is much more common than outright abuse. I think for example of the nephew who got his aunt to grant him a financial power of attorney in exchange for a candy bar. I have no doubt that some of the abusers I have dealt with would have readily attempted to persuade or coerce their family member into suicide if they benefited as a result. We should not give the potential abuser one more tool to exploit the vulnerable.
As healthcare providers, my wife and I feel that it is our duty and our mission to help our residents achieve the best possible quality of life and not to help them end their lives. The door to assisted suicide is one which, we believe, should never be opened.
(Mr. Cahoon and his wife own Friendship Manor, an assisted living home in New Ipswich.)
Nancy Elliott, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA
In her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Nancy Elliott – former state representative from Merrimack, who once served on the committee herself – took on the references within HB 1659-FN to “mental anguish” and “embarrassing indignities.”
This sounds like a disability. Before I lost my husband, that was the description of him. It is cruel for the state to say that someone like my husband should not want to live and be pushed toward suicide.
Steven Wade, Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire
As you may be aware, suicide has reached epidemic proportions in our state, [with] the number of suicides nearly doubling in NH in the last 10 years. NH DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] and suicide prevention organizations are working hard to implement a new program of “Zero Suicides” in New Hampshire, along with renewed focus on “Help Seeking”.
HB 1659 is an affront and a contradiction to these suicide prevention efforts and to all the hard work by so many suicide prevention advocates and volunteers in NH.
We will argue that instead of legalizing assisted suicide as medical care, we should be working to greatly expand funding and access to palliative and mental care for those most-at risk for suicide in our state – persons living with life-long disability, veterans living with TBI and PTSD, at-risk teens, first responders, and elders vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This also includes many of NH’s low income citizens and persons on Medicaid and under managed care, who do not have access to needed palliative and mental health care.
Steven Wade is executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, and facilitator for the Coalition Against State-Approved Suicide.
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.