Committee recommends passage of end-of-life options bill

SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-06-2024 5:54 PM

Dubbed by some as state-sanctioned suicide and by others as a means to alleviate the suffering of those with terminal illnesses, a bill providing end-of-life options heads to the full House of Representatives with a favorable recommendation.

After impassioned testimony from at least 70 individuals with polarized views last month, the Judiciary Committee recommended House Bill 1283 by a majority vote of 13-7 on Wednesday.

The legislation would grant individuals over the age of 18, diagnosed with terminal illnesses, the choice to end their lives through self-administered means. 

“I want the liberty if the circumstances arise when you know the choice is to endure terrible suffering or be able to end it in a more peaceful way,” said Rep. Bob Lynn of Concord, chair of the committee and cosponsor of the bill. “I want that option. If I should have that option, everybody should have that option.”

The committee recommended the bill with an amendment that clarifies the role of pharmacists solely as providers, not prescribers of the medication. Additionally, only fully qualified and licensed physicians are allowed to make these critical decisions. Physician assistants cannot verify if patients are eligible to receive the drugs to end life.

Individuals must have two healthcare providers verify their eligibility for these medications. 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.

Not all representatives were content with the bill’s current form. Some advocated for its outright dismissal, while others sought amendments to address concerns over coercion, misuse and the potential for increasing suicide rates.

Representative Kristine Perez emphasized the necessity for additional safeguards within the bill. In its current form, it would allow two doctors to set up an office solely to approve individuals for the medical aid in dying program, which could be problematic, she said.

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“This bill is flawed. Raise the bar. At least use the standards that hospice uses. At least use those standards for people. Don’t let people set up a stop bike shop. Fix the bill,” said Perez, a Londonderry Republican.

As a warning, she also introduced an amendment to disband the state’s suicide prevention council, arguing that its existence is inconsistent with the state’s endorsement of medically-assisted suicide.

Representative Joe Alexander echoed Perez’s sentiment, saying “If the state’s sanctioning suicide, I think we should remove the council.”

However, after deliberation, Perez withdrew the amendment.

The ongoing discussion about end-of-life options is not new to New Hampshire. An early attempt was made in 2015 with a bill to establish a committee to examine the positive and negative consequences of such decisions. However, this effort was prevented from becoming law when then-governor Maggie Hassan vetoed the proposal.

In the next two years, similar attempts were made, but they failed to reach the governor’s desk.

After unsuccessful attempts to form a study committee, a similar bill to the current one was introduced in 2020. However, it failed to pass too.

If this year’s bill is passed as presented, it will provide an option for individuals with terminal illnesses like cancer and those with neurological degenerative diseases who will never recover and are in chronic pain.

For people supporting the bill, end-of-life options are not suicide. It’s a way to end their life peacefully while having autonomy over their body. Once the medication is received, the individual holds the power to decide whether to take it or not.

“What we are looking at here is how to make sure that the citizens of New Hampshire, relatively few, but still the citizens of New Hampshire, have an opportunity to have one more choice in how their life ends,” said Rep. Majorie Smith of Durham, the prime sponsor of the bill.