NH Senate Essentially Kills Death with Dignity Bill This Session

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State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, is pictured speaking with Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon at Thursday's Senate session.


CONCORD – An end-of-life bill that would allow terminal individuals to self-administer medicine for suicide was sent to interim study by the state Senate Thursday.

The vote was 17-7. That is essentially a polite death in the second year of two-year term.

Republican Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said House Bill 1283 could become a “slippery slope” and needs more work, fearing that as in other countries, the law could be expanded.

He said while there are guardrails now “we will not be in their seats forever.”

But Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, D-Lebanon, rose in opposition to the interim study motion. 

She is a paramedic who has been at the side of those dying who only wish this legislation was law.

“You, the person, have to consent. You have to have the mental ability, the acuity to make this decision,” she said noting the bill also requires two witnesses must sign on and there must be a diagnosis of six months or less to live. And the person must be over the age of 18.

She noted the late, former Parks Director Rich McLeod of Franconia had a late stage cancer and only a matter of weeks to live when he was diagnosed, and his wife, Martha said this is an option he would have wished for.

Republican Sen. Keith Murphy, R-Manchester, said he has lost sleep over this bill but decided to “vote for the rights of terminally ill people” and spare families the anguish of coming home to find a loved one dead on the floor from a shotgun blast.

Seventy-one percent of the voters support this measure, said Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham.

Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, a retired nurse practitioner, said there is no reason to believe all death will be painful and said it can be managed and the person can be left comfortable. She supported the motion of interim study as did Sen. Carrie Gendreau, R-Littleton.

Gendreau said God is our creator and “it is up to the Lord to decide when our time is done.”  She said her father was in extreme pain at the end of his life but the time was also an opportunity.

“Eternity is in the balance. The Lord talks more about hell than he does heaven. Suicide is a permanent solution for a potentially short-term problem. When we leave here it will either be to heaven or hell.”

Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said this bill allows for some a compassionate way to go. 

By passing the measure, she said “we are allowing people to live gracefully and end their life gracefully,” while she acknowledged there were those in favor of interim study, she said “this is a conversation we should continue,” she said.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead said she knows HB 1283 poses a tough decision for each senator. She said there is no residency requirement in the bill and feared this would make the state a magnet for those seeking death.

Canada passed a similar bill but changed it to allow for those suffering depression, Birdsell said.

“If this bill passes, how long will it be” before substantive changes are made and would allow for those with depression to end their life.

She worried the message it would send to young people who are facing depression.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said all senators heard a lot about the bill from their constituents. She asked why a person has to administer it rather than a medical professional and theorized it was a matter of liability.

She argued people live longer than some diagnoses.

“I don’t think we want to put our stamp of approval on that,” Carson said.

Voting in the minority were Senators David Watters, D-Dover, Prentiss, Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, Sen. Murphy, Sen. Perkins-Kwoka and Sen. Altschilller.

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