By James Tillman

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE, November 12, 2009 (—The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee earlier this week recommended against a bill that would legalize assisted suicide. The bill was rejected in a 14-3 vote.

As introduced by Representative Charles Weed, HB 304 would allow a “mentally competent person who is 18 years of age or older” with a terminal condition to request fatal medication through a document signed by two witnesses. 

“It's not the function of government to encourage suicide in the young or the old,” said Republican Rep. Nancy Eliot. “It's a prescription for elder abuse.”

The House will vote on the committee's recommendation in January; if the House accepts the committee recommendation, legislative rules will prohibit the bill from being brought up again next year.

“This is a significant victory,” said the Alex Schadenberg, Chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. However, he added, “This does not mean that the bill is completely dead. The legislature might reject the recommendation of the committee and approve the bill. But considering the lopsided vote at the committee level, it is unlikely that the bill in New Hampshire will be approved.”

Rep. Bill O'Brien agreed with Schadenberg's analysis. O'Brien told that given that the only three votes in favor of the bill in committee were from freshmen Democrats, “it is not very likely that this would be the rare bill where the House rejects a committee's recommendation.”

But, he said, ”Stranger things have happened … so we will be prepared.”

Alex Schadenberg specifically thanked Margaret Dore, a Washington State attorney and anti-euthanasia activist, for her key efforts against the bill.

In a letter to the Concord Monitor, Dore herself wrote that when Washington voters recently legalized assisted suicide, they “thought they were voting for 'choice.'” However, “Our new law is instead a recipe for elder abuse,” she said.

She goes on to explain how under New Hampshire's HB 304 someone else may talk for the patient during the process of requesting the lethal dose, and how no witnesses are required during the actual death. “Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for someone other than the patient to administer the lethal dose to him without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know?”

The International Task force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide came to a similar conclusion about HB 304 after an analysis, saying that the bill would give health programs the opportunity of encouraging people to commit suicide, permit doctors to prescribe fatal medication to individuals who do not live in New Hampshire, allow doctors to prescribe fatal medication to depressed or mentally ill patients, and lacks provisions to investigate inaccurate or misleading reports regarding assisted-suicide deaths.

Even supporters of assisted suicide have expressed their disapproval of the bill in its current form.

Rep. Lucy Weber, who says she supports assisted suicide, moved to reject the bill. She said she believes the bill needs more work, but hopes that similar legislation will be passed in the future.

Sandy Issacs, of the assisted-suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices, said that they would not give up: “We'll be coming back with something more people might be willing to pass.”

See related coverage:

Non-Terminal People Increasingly Seeking Assisted Suicide in Switzerland 

Washington Becomes 2nd US State with Legal Assisted Suicide 

Lead Euthanasia Opponent Says Assisted Suicide Laws Can't be Adequately Controlled