Saturday, February 1, 2014

New Hampshire Assisted Suicide Bill Redefines “Terminal Condition” Broadly Enough to Make Anyone With a Significant Disability or Chronic Condition Eligible

The following article was written by Stephen Drake, who is the researcher for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet. This article was published on January 31, 2014 on the Not Dead Yet Blog.

Stephen Drake
By Stephen Drake - January 31, 2014

If the title to this post sounds familiar, it should. This is not the first time that a “Death With Dignity” bill is being considered by the New Hampshire legislature. It’s a bill that claims to restrict “eligibility” for getting lethal doses in order to commit suicide to people with “terminal conditions.” But when you get into the actual definition, it’s clear that the sponsors of this bill want “terminal condition” to mean something other than what the rest of us mean.

This comes as no shock. This expansive bill has been introduced several times by assisted suicide zealots in the New Hampshire legislature over the past few years. Here’s what I wrote back in 2009 regarding the bill introduced that year – which looks to be identical to one introduced this year:
Definition of “terminal condition”: 
XIII. “Terminal condition” means an incurable and irreversible condition, for the end stage of which there is no known treatment which will alter its course to death, and which, in the opinion of the attending physician and consulting physician competent in that disease category, will result in premature death. 
Read that definition carefully, terminality is defined as having a condition that is irreversible and will result in a premature death. My partner would fit that definition. Many people I work with also fit the definition. 
None of them are dying. 
Keep in mind that this definition is to be used only in terms of eligibility for assisted suicide. It doesn’t, for example, apply to hospice services which are limited by federal rules to those who are deemed as having six months or less to live. 
So, no guarantee of palliative care for people with significant disabilities or conditions, unless they’re thought to be close to death. That would be expensive. 
OTOH, this bill would offer help with easy and successful suicide for anyone with a serious, significant, potentially life-shortening condition/disability at any time at all. 
So, no guarantee of medical support to make life easier, but a “hand out” to those who want to die, even if they’re not dying. 
I don’t think this can be written off as just sloppy wording. The sponsors involved are legislators, and if we assume competence on their parts, then we can also assume that they are fully aware of the importance of the specific definitions used in a bill when it comes to applying it in the real world as law. 
Make no mistake. This bill, if passed, will guarantee an easy suicide to just about any person with diagnoses of quadriplegia, spinal muscular atrophy, HIV/AIDS, and many other conditions disabilities. Nothing to help people who could have many happy years with the right supports – just an easy and cheap out.
There’s a Judiciary Committee hearing on the assisted suicide bill HB 1325 on February 4th. It looks like an attempt to fast track this and not only get a vote that legalizes assisted suicide, but opens the doors to anyone with a significant disability or chronic condition defined as “eligible.” It looks like we’re in a new “pushing the envelope” phase in the incrementalist/slippery slope strategy of the assisted suicide lobby in the U.S.