New Hampshire Legislature rejects Death with Dignity

pushpin in a map of New Hampshire
No to ‘Death with Dignity’ Measures

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 219-66 on March 6 against a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The bill’s defeat was seen as a victory by some disability advocacy groups, who view the proposed bill, and similar “Death with Dignity” initiatives, as a way for hospitals to avoid giving proper end-of-life treatment.

“Many assisted suicide proponents are well meaning, but it is simply naive to suggest that assisted suicide can be added to the array of medical treatment options, without taking into account the harsh realities of elder abuse and the related potential for coercion,” said Not Dead Yet  in a letter, sent February 3 to the state’s House Judiciary Committee. “While some people are safe from these pressures, others are most certainly not.

“Legislators have an obligation to consider everyone when evaluating the risks and unintended consequences posed by such a major change in public policy.”

The bill would have allowed terminally-ill patients to receive and self-administer a prescription for life-ending medication.

In the states that have approved physician-assisted suicide, a patient defined as terminally ill must receive a prognosis of six months or less to live by two physicians. The bills also contain a 15-day waiting period, a requirement that two doctors verify that the terminally ill patient is mentally competent, and a provision requiring doctors to provide information on other forms of end-of-life care.

The proposed New Hampshire bill, however, did not include the six-months language in its definition of “terminal condition.”

Under the bill, “terminal condition” is defined as an “incurable and irreversible condition, for the end stage for which there is no known treatment which will alter its course to death, and which, in the opinion of the attending physician and consulting physician competent in that disease category, will result in premature death.”

For Not Dead Yet, which opposes Death with Dignity measures even with the more restrictive definition, this definition is particularly alarming.

“It’s difficult to think of a chronic health condition or significant disability that does not negatively impact one’s projected lifespan,” Not Dead Yet said in the letter.

Also on May 6, the House defeated two other bills that Not Dead Yet viewed as “back door assisted suicide bills,” according to a news release.

Under New Hampshire law, it is a crime if someone “aids” or “solicits” another to commit suicide. Under one of the rejected bills, the reference to “solicits” would have been eliminated.

The other failed bill would have created an affirmative new defense for a person who “causes” or “aids” another in committing suicide. The defense would be allowed where the person had a life expectancy of two years or less and the person who causes or aids the suicide does so to “alleviate the terminally ill person’s pain and suffering.”

The House did approve the creation of a new seven-member committee to study the state’s “end-of-life” decisions and the state’s medical directive law.

Disability rights advocates have been heavily involved in recent efforts defeating Death with Dignity legislation in Connecticut and a voter initiative in Massachusetts. Physician assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana and, most recently, Vermont.

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