NH House Approves Death with Dignity Bill 

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Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, speaks in favor of her bill to establish a medical aid with dying program, Thursday before the House.


CONCORD — The House voted to allow the terminally ill the right to determine when and how they die, as 10 other states allow.

House Bill 1283 would allow physicians to prescribe medication that would allow a terminally ill patient to end their own life.

The bill passed on a 179-176 bipartisan vote with supporters saying it was about time for New Hampshire to join its sister states in providing options to its citizens.

Under the bill, a terminally ill person would be able to obtain a doctor’s prescription for a lethal dose the individual would be able to administer to himself or herself.

The person would have to be mentally competent, be terminally ill with no more than six months to live and voluntarily make the request to a physician to obtain the medication.

Two doctors would need to approve the request and the patient would need two mental health experts, and two witnesses to attest to his or her wishes.

Currently 10 states have medical aid in dying laws, including Maine and Vermont.

Oregon, the first state with a medical assist law, passed it 25 years ago.

Several physicians told the House Judicial Committee during a public hearing on the bill that many people who are approved for medical aid in dying never use the medication, but are comforted to know it is there if their pain and suffering become unbearable.

A recent University of New Hampshire Survey indicates that 70 percent of the state’s citizens support medical assistance with dying.

Vermont has had 10 years under their law, and 203 people did end their lives, although far more had been approved, Betsy Walkerman, president of Patient Choices Vermont, told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

She said her state has not had a single report of abuse or suspected abuse, and noted many New Hampshire residents visit the state’s website and call the helpline.

“At the most fundamental level, what this bill is about is freedom,” said Rep. Bob Lynn. “Should a terminally ill person, within six months of death, make a knowing, intelligent and  voluntary decision to end suffering and die peacefully in their sleep?”

Opponents argued the bill may be narrow now, but it would be a slippery slope and eventually would reach wider and wider to the point where disabled and elderly people may be encouraged to participate in the program, and insurance companies encourage its use to save money, all eventually leading to euthanasia.

A coalition including the NH Hospital Association, Disability Rights Center NH and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester have joined to oppose the bill.

“Are we a culture of life, or are we a culture of death,” asked Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield.

Several representatives opposed the bill because of what it may mean for the developmentally disabled, who could be manipulated.

Rep. Chris Mums, D-Hampton, said he worries what will happen to his developmentally disabled son when he and his wife are gone. 

“People like my son are very trusting and easily manipulated by anyone who appears to be their friend,” Mums cautioned.

But the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said there has never been any indication that the disabled had been coerced to seek medical aid with dying and would be barred from participating under the bill.

“We all have two things in common. We are born and we die,” Smith said. “This is an option, this is a choice, it is a possibility that very few take advantage of, but those who do, find it a comfort. For many just having a prescription is enough.”

She told the House medical aid in dying is not suicide, as people who would choose to use the aid want to live, she said, while people who choose suicide do not want to live.

The bill now goes to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future.

Subpoena Power

The House tabled a bill that would give the Commissioner of Education subpoena power.

The commissioner sought the power although department personnel said they have never had difficulty retrieving information from school districts when they asked for it.

Opponents of the bill said it is not needed and called it an opportunity for a fishing expedition by the current commissioner.


The House approved a bill that resolves a simmering controversy over charging for right-to-know requests, including some that are substantial and require many hours for public workers to respond.

The House voted 268-106 to approve House Bill 1002, which had been approved, but then sent back to committee after some of the organizations affected by the bill objected to provisions.

A group that included the American Civil Liberties Union – NH, the New Hampshire Press Association, Right-to-Know NH, the NH Municipal Association, and members of the House Judiciary Committee reached agreement on a proposal that addresses the issues that spurred the bill.

The agreement allows public bodies to charge $1 per page for electronic copies, with the first 250 pages free, allows those who cannot afford to pay for the request to receive it free, and requests for the public interest would also be free, and the bill defines what is in the public interest, according to Rep. Cam Kenney, D-Durham, who helped negotiate the agreement.

He said the agreement deals with the problem request for thousands of pages of documents.

The solution will also address the problems raised by the state Supreme Court in several cases involving right-to-know requests and responses by public bodies, he said.

The bill now goes to the Senate

Gunstock Ski Area

Lawmakers had little patience to deal with a Belknap County controversy over the operation of the Gunstock Ski Area and a bill to increase the county’s take from the $20 million operation.

The House voted to kill the bill and its content for the remainder of the two-year term which ends in December.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com. Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org’s State House bureau chief with 40 years reporting experience.

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