Opinion: The misguided rhetoric of the End-of-Life Options bill

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By LISA BEAUDOIN

Published: 02-12-2024 6:30 AM

Modified: 02-12-2024 1:09 PM


Lisa Beaudoin of Concord, principal of Strategies for Disability Equity, is the former executive director of NH’s leading disability justice organization.

Advances in public health policy are supposed to be driven by evidence-based research, not by how people feel. With a heavy heart and dismayed mind, I am confounded by the supposed public sentiment in favor of physician-assisted suicide; and how this feeling is being used to garner support for the End-of-Life Options bill.

By comparison, all of the data, research, and analysis done by the National Council on Disability (the non-partisan, independent, federal agency that reports to the president and the U.S. Congress) and all prominent national disability organizations conclude that physician-assisted suicide laws are inherently dangerous and harmful to people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations, i.e., seniors and veterans.

The NCD’s 2019 70+ page, well-researched, data-driven report explaining multiple areas of concern has a one-sentence key recommendation to state initiatives: States should not legalize any form of assisted suicide or active euthanasia. These policy analysts are highly trained professionals, they are not alarmists expressing their ideas on potential worst-case scenarios.

By contrast, proponents of physician-assisted suicide are leveraging the feelings of citizens on the dying process to change the law rather than working to make our healthcare system, in this particular case our palliative care system, more robust.

Physician-assisted suicide is insidiously becoming normalized as a legitimate option instead of doing the hard work of creating safe, equitable end-of-life care. Last year, the National Institutes of Health declared people with disabilities are an identified health disability population due to measurable health inequities, yet only the tip of the research iceberg is known on how severe the inequities are in health outcomes for the disability community.

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Unchecked medical ableism is documented by healthcare providers who self-report their persistent negative stereotypes about life with a disability. This ongoing discrimination has led to such a crisis in standards of care that women with disabilities experience shocking barriers to basic healthcare like pap smears and breast exams.

In April 2023, four disability rights groups filed a CA lawsuit alleging California’s 7-year-old End of Life Option Act, originally designed to allow terminally ill people to end their life, puts people with disabilities at greater risk of being coerced into seeking assisted suicide because we know from the research that healthcare providers undervalue life with a disability. It’s a data-driven lawsuit.

Please thread these examples together to see how opposition to HB 1283 is evidentiary-based, not ideological. People with disabilities are routinely demoralized out of seeking healthcare, can you imagine why physician-assisted suicide is frightening to us?

According to Patients’ Rights Action Fund, in states with existing physician-assisted suicide, there is data on insurance companies denying life-saving treatments and attempting to instead coerce patients into taking lethal drugs.

There is a chasm between what is known to be true through research about how unsafe and deadly physician-assisted suicide is for people with disabilities (and other vulnerable people) and what supporters of HB 1283 believe is a fair right for them to have at their disposal. People believe many things that are not true. Granite Staters and the NH Legislature must fix the gaps in our healthcare system and ferociously work to reduce health inequities.

We must align ourselves with sound public health policy driven by what the research shows to be objective reality for people with disabilities and all vulnerable populations, not by public sentiment. We must reject the misguided rhetoric in HB 1283.