Youth rally against New Hampshire’s bill allowing medical aid in dying

Charlie Taylor, senior at Concord Christian Academy advocating against the end of life option at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday

Charlie Taylor, senior at Concord Christian Academy advocating against the end of life option at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 05-15-2024 9:53 AM

With a brother who has Down syndrome and autism and an uncle battling terminal cancer, Charlie Taylor, a senior at Concord Christian Academy, knows all too well the toll illnesses can take on both the body and loved ones. Yet, he strongly believes that giving people the option to take their own life is never the solution.

“The worst advice you could give is some situations call for suicide,” said Taylor, joining other youth at a press conference organized by the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Coalition on Tuesday, advocating against a bill that would allow individuals with a terminal illness to end their lives with prescribed medication. “I think that if you’re legislating this opportunity, it will be abused. There are always unintended consequences.”

While he admits it’s heartbreaking when he visits his uncle, he said sitting next to him, talking and providing emotional support and comfort is a “much more worthy pursuit” than ending life. House Bill 1283, known as the end-of-life options bill, is seen by some as medically assisted suicide but by others as a way to end one’s life with dignity.

Despite numerous legislative attempts since 2010, this is the first time the bill has passed the state House of Representatives and reached the Senate floor, with a vote scheduled for Thursday.

Its previous failures have been due to concerns about coercion, the promotion of suicide and other issues.

Taylor, who has known three individuals who attempted suicide during their high school years — one of whom succeeded — voiced his concerns about the House bill, warning it could endanger youth already struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, while wearing a sticker to express his opposition to suicide.

“If you’re putting any situation where suicide is legal, you’re going to have people who received the message that maybe suicide is the appropriate response,” argued Taylor. “It’s harmful not only for the person that’s harming themselves but also for everyone around it. It is really a butterfly ripple effect.”

But among the criteria outlined in the end-of-life options bill for being able to take the prescribed medication to end one’s life, mental competency stands as a crucial requirement.

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The first prescribing provider would verify that the person meets the criteria under the end-of-life options act. This includes ensuring the individual is mentally sound, has a prognosis to live six months or less, has voluntarily made the decision and is informed about alternatives, among other factors. The second healthcare provider must then confirm those qualifications.

Both healthcare providers must ensure the individual understands the risks and alternatives to medically assisted dying. If there are any doubts about the person’s mental competency, the case must be referred to a state-licensed mental health professional. If the person is found to be mentally unsound and unable to make a clear judgment, they will no longer be eligible under the bill.

Advocates of the bill emphasize the distinction between suicide and medical aid in dying, arguing that suicide is often a desperate, violent act by someone who sees no way out and wants to die, while those seeking medical aid in dying wish to live but find their suffering unbearable.

However, Mary Fahey, a 23-year-old from Nashua who has made multiple suicide attempts, argued that the distinction is flawed.

“When I attempted suicide, I did not wish to die, rather, I desperately wished to live,” said Fahey.

Others at the press conference, like Sam Farrington, also expressed concerns regarding the potential adverse effects of the bill on vulnerable populations like youth, disabled individuals, and veterans, highlighting the risk of coercion.

“When these vulnerable people are put at risk in a state where assisted suicide is legalized, they don’t feel welcomed,” said Farrington. “They don’t feel compassion.”

To safeguard individuals, especially those with disabilities from coercion and exploitation, even if a patient meets all eligibility criteria and is terminally ill, the eligibility for this option hinges on the ability to self-administer the medication – a provision shared with other states.

The bill also explicitly states that the decision cannot be made by a guardian, healthcare proxy, or surrogate decision-maker. The choice must solely rest with the individual who will be taking the medication.

After the medication is prescribed, the choice to take it remains entirely in the hands of the patient. Whether it’s kept at home or in a hospice facility, patients can decide when or if they want to take it.

Having the choice to end their life brings a sense of solace to people who know death is inevitable and could be fast approaching and unpleasant, advocates say.

This controversial legislation, modeled after laws in 10 other states and the District of Columbia, including neighboring Maine and Vermont, lacks residency restrictions, allowing individuals from any state to seek medical aid in dying in New Hampshire, similar to Vermont’s expansion enacted in May 2023.

If passed, eligible individuals must wait 48 hours to receive medication after the prescription is filled, unless the prescribing healthcare provider confirms the individual may die before the waiting period’s expiration.

Jonathan Eddinger, a cardiologist at the Catholic Medical Center, opposes the bill and instead advocates for increased investment and training in palliative care. He believes in addressing the pain caused by illnesses through alternative means rather than resorting to ending life.

“We need to move the needle back towards more palliative care,” said Eddinger. “People while they’re living, not facilitate their death, we need to not abandon them at the end of life.”

While palliative care and hospice services are important in alleviating suffering, they may not always offer complete relief. In the context of terminal illnesses, morphine is often effective in managing pain, but it does have its limitations, say healthcare advocates in support of the bill.

Pain medication addresses only part of the challenges. Other symptoms present complexities that prevent comprehensive relief to those suffering.

In cases where individuals experience starvation, uncontrollable vomiting, or inability to manage their own secretions without tubes, it transcends the scope of simply administering anti-nausea or pain medication; it becomes a matter of preserving the quality of life.

But the 20 young adults at the meeting said they would choose to support each other through hardship and embrace every second of the gift of life instead of ending the suffering

“Do we want to advocate death as a remedy for difficulty? I certainly don’t,” said Taylor.