Death with Dignity Opponents and Supporters Tell Their Stories

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Reps. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, and Bob Lynn, R-Windham, speak to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday in favor of their bill to establish a death with dignity law in New Hampshire.


CONCORD — Death with dignity allows the terminally ill to once again claim control of their lives, or will encourage those on the emotional edge into suicide, a Senate committee was told Wednesday.

At issue is House Bill 1283, which if passed would make New Hampshire the 11th state along with Washington D.C. to allow terminally ill patients to receive medication to end their lives.

The all-day public hearing turned out both supporters who said it will allow a peaceful death when pain becomes unbearable, and opponents who talked about opening a dangerous door that leads to a “slippy slope” to expand eligibility to almost anyone leading to euthanasia.

While supporters of the bill told stories of the suffering of family members who would have benefitted from the bill, opponents talked about the expansion of those eligible in Canada over the last seven years, and the Netherlands over the past 50 years.

“This is not a slippery slope, it is a water slide,” said Rod Simms, who is the caregiver to Melinda Simms, NH chapter advocate coordinator for the United Spinal Association.

“If you open the door, you will never get it shut,” Simms said. “I don’t what our (state) motto to become ‘If you can’t live free, you should die.”’

But Mark Kaplan of Portsmouth, told of his father and the only option open to him at the end of his life to relieve his suffering was to go without food and water.

“That was not the conclusion to his life he wished for, nor would any of his family wished for it,” he said. The bill “will not change how his life ended, but we can change it for others.”

HB 1283 would allow physicians to prescribe medication that would allow a terminally ill patient to end his or her life.

The bill passed the House last month on a 179-176 bipartisan vote.

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.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee the bill encompasses what has been learned in the nearly three decades of having death with dignity in other states: “what works, what doesn’t work and the best practices.”

She said at its core is the right to control your own medical care and it would add one more option to end-of-life care already in state law.

Smith addressed some of the concerns raised about suicide saying people who choose medical aid in dying want to live and be able to participate in life in the way they have, but can no longer in the same way.

Many people given prescriptions by their physicians never fill them, she said, but the option gives them comfort that they can end their life if the pain becomes unbearable.

People who commit suicide, often in a violent way, do not want to live, Smith noted.

“One thing we have in common in this room, in this country, in this world,” Smith said, “is we are born and we all are going to die.”

Bill co-sponsor, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, told the committee the fundamental question the committee members must ask themselves is “should a terminally-ill person with six months until death make a violent choice to end their suffering, or die peacefully in their sleep with their family by their side.”

Committee member, Sen. Kevin Avard, D-Nashua, raised the issue of a slippery slope noting the legislature changes every two years in personality and philosophy and the next legislature may have a totally different view of medically assisted suicide.

“How do you stop it, once you open that door?” he asked.

Smith responded that lawmakers should feel uneasy and uncomfortable about the bill, noting it is not about putting a decal on a license plate, but about ending a life.

“If you can’t believe in the basic integrity and decency of the people elected and the people who elected us,” Smith said, “we have a more serious problem than medical aid in dying.”

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

Bob Dunn, the director of public policy for the Diocese of Manchester urged the committee to look to Part 1, Article 1 of the state constitution and its fundamental principle of “the common good.”
Once the bill is passed it will be difficult and impossible to control, he said, and would put society at risk, especially the most vulnerable.

“Heed the warning flags raised today by the people from New Hampshire,” he said, “who are in a position to know the dangers.”
Rev. Peter Friedrichs of Keene, a hospice volunteer and board member of the Alliance for End of Life Options, noted the opposition led by one religious group, and said “in my faith mercy, compassion, peace and love lie at the heart of my religion.”
He said all are called to provide comfort and to reduce the suffering of others.

“Human life is precious, its sole measure is not in longevity,” Friedrichs said. “This will empower every terminally ill person to decide if they wish to keep on living under their circumstances.”
Others were concerned about those with disabilities and how in other countries those eligible include the disabled.

Rep. Chris Muns, 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,” Muns cautioned.

But Smith 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.

While a number of disabled advocates spoke in opposition to the bill, others with disabilities spoke in favor saying it does the one thing they all want, give the person the right to control their health care decisions.

Charmaine Manansala, Chief Advocacy Officer at Compassion & Choices, said her organization pushes for end of life options for everyone, not just the disabled, and passing the bill would prevent any more terminally ill New Hampshire residents from suffering needlessly.

Manansala, who was in a wheelchair, told the committee she has been an advocate for death with dignity for 10 years, and she would not have done that if it puts people with disabilities in harm’s way.

Others who testified were concerned the bill would normalize suicide and increase those who would attempt to take their own lives, particularly representatives from veterans groups and the Dover Fire Chief.

But Rev. Mary James of Durham said her husband Bob, who died from tongue cancer in 2022, told her during his ordeal he thought of overdosing on his medication but was concerned he might fail or cause repercussions for his family.

“Two weeks before his death,” she said, “he said I want peace.”

He was in a home Hospice program, but had breakthrough pain, his breathing tube was constantly clogged, he would fall down and had no control over his bodily functions, she said.

One night in bed, he woke to blood coming out of his trachea tube and he drowned in his own blood after all he had been through, James said.

“As a minister, I do not believe that either his disease or the manner of his death were God’s will for him,” she said. “Far too many medically-ill adults ask their medical team, ‘Can’t you help me die?’ Instead let them say ‘doctor I fought hard, it is time for me to go in peace.’”

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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