Committee rejects N.H. assisted suicide bill

By Norma Love
Associated Press / November 11, 2009

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CONCORD, N.H. - A bill to legalize assisted suicide in New Hampshire lost key backing yesterday from a legislative committee when both supporters and opponents joined forces to reject it.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 14-3 against the bill that would let terminally ill patients over age 18 obtain lethal prescriptions, with safeguards to prevent abuses.

Supporters of assisted suicide said the bill was flawed and teamed up with opponents to vote against recommending the measure to the full House. The committee has been working on the bill since September.

The House votes on the recommendation in January. If the chamber accepts the committee recommendation, legislative rules make it nearly impossible for the issue to be brought up again next year.

Representative Nancy Elliott, a committee member who opposes assisted suicide, said she was pleased with the panel’s decision. “It’s not the function of government to encourage suicide in the young or the old,’’ she said. “It’s a prescription for elder abuse.’’

Elliott, a Merrimack Republican, said both sides were opposed for slightly different reasons.

Among the unresolved areas were who would be covered by the bill and who would gain immunity from prosecution for assisting in the death. Elliott pointed out that one proposal was to limit access to those with a terminal illness that would cause death within six months. She said no doctor could accurately predict when someone will die.

Representative Lucy Weber, who made the motion to reject the bill, said that she supports legalizing assisted suicide but that the bill did not take into account an existing state law against aiding someone to commit suicide.

“There are no death squads in this bill,’’ said Weber, a Walpole Democrat. “There are no lethal injections in this bill. This bill is not allowing doctors to make a determination of when somebody’s life ends, nor is it allowing the state to determine when the life ends. It is about individual self-determination, but I think [the bill] needs more work.’’

Weber said she hopes legislation, with modifications, would be filed in the future.

Representative Rick Watrous, Democrat of Concord, was on the losing side.

“This is about personal choice and compassion. It is the ultimate ‘Live Free or Die’ law,’’ he said in a reference to New Hampshire’s state motto.

Sandy Issacs of Compassion and Choices, which supports assisted suicide, said his group will not give up. “We’ll be coming back with something more people might be willing to pass,’’ he said.

On the other side, Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research, said New Hampshire citizens “are tired of radical pieces of social legislation.’’ He said the bill was deeply flawed and “should have been dead on arrival.’’

Oregon has approved assisted suicide ballot questions twice. Washington state followed suit last year.