Physician Assisted Suicide

LFDA Editor

In Brief: 

  • It is currently illegal in New Hampshire for doctors to provide terminally ill patients with the means to end their own life.
  • The US Supreme Court has ruled that states do have the right to legalize physician assisted suicide if they choose.
  • An attempt to make physician assisted suicide legal in New Hampshire failed in 2014.
  • Pro: Terminally ill people, especially those in constant and severe pain, should have the right to end their own lives on their own terms with dignity.
  • Con: If a doctor helps someone commit suicide it goes against their ethical obligation to heal their patients.

Issue Facts: 

The question of whether to legalize physician assisted suicide is highly emotional and controversial not only in New Hampshire but across the country.

Assisted suicide is currently a felony level offense in New Hampshire. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to pass legislation in New Hampshire that would allow doctors to provide terminally ill patients with the means to end their own life. In most cases, this would mean a doctor prescribes a lethal dose of medication that their patient would decide when, or if, to take. A 2014 effort to make physician assisted suicide legal through HB 1325 was voted down by the NH House of Representatives by a vote of 219-66.

The US Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in 1997 when they found that there was no federal constitutional right to physician assisted suicide. The high court did affirm the right of state legislatures to legalize physician assisted suicide. Since then, Oregon, Washington and Vermont have passed laws that allow physician assisted death, while courts in Montana and New Mexico have ruled in favor of allowing physician assisted suicide. Thirty-nine states have specific laws prohibiting physician assisted suicide.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

"New Hampshire should make physician assisted suicide legal." 

  • Terminally ill people, especially those in constant and severe pain, should have the right to end their own lives on their own terms with dignity.
  • National organizations like Death with Dignity point out that aggressive pain management does not always alleviate the suffering of those at the end of life. They feel that if a person's pain cannot be relieved with palliative care, then the doctor should do everything they can to help that person find relief, even if it means prescribing medications that will hasten death.
  • The United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations are in the minority among religious denominations in that they formally support a terminally ill individual's decision to end their life. The UCC states that their position is consistent with their broader church philosophy which stresses the importance of respecting individual conscience and choice. The Unitarians point to a similar belief in their church which honors the integrity of the individual conscience.

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

"Physician assisted suicide should remain illegal in New Hampshire."

  • If a doctor helps someone commit suicide it goes against their ethical obligation to heal their patients.
  • Legalizing physician assisted death could discourage terminally ill people from seeking out hospice or other palliative care options.
  • Physician assisted suicide is opening the door to euthanasia in which the doctor actually causes the death of their patient.
  • The Catholic Church opposes physician assisted suicide saying that like a murder it is an immoral act that involves taking an innocent human life. A majority of other religious denominations including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and all three Jewish movements in the United States oppose physician assisted suicide. 

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the House

Establishes a commission to study end-of-life choices, including "aid in dying laws."

Vetoed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study end-of-life choices, including "aid in dying laws."

Killed in the House

Allows physician-assisted suicide.

Killed in the House

Allows physician-assisted suicide.

Killed in the House

Allows physician-assisted suicide.

Should NH allow physician-assisted suicide?

FOR
REPRESENTATIVES

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AGAINST
REPRESENTATIVES

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Issue Status

SB 426, a 2016 bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Feltes, would have established a committee to study end-of-life decisions, including physician assisted suicide. The House killed that bill.

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