New Hampshire legislators reconsider ‘medical aid in dying’ legislation — By: Catholic News Agency

The state capitol building of New Hampshire in Concord, New Hampshire. / Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Mar 28, 2024 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The New Hampshire House of Representatives is poised to reconsider its narrow passage of a bill that would legalize assisted suicide in the “Live Free or Die” state.

Last week, New Hampshire state representatives passed HB 1273 by a margin of just three votes, 179-176. Twenty-four representatives abstained during the vote. However, the bill has not been advanced to the New Hampshire Senate, as one member of the slim majority, Rep. Mike Ouellet, filed a motion to reconsider. 

The Republican politician had initially voted in favor of the proposed law. However, the following day, Ouellet revealed that he wanted to change his vote due to his faith.

“I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life,” the lawmaker told the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. The Republican politician felt “torn because the bill would conflict with his faith.”

HB 1273 has nine co-sponsors in the lower house (six Democrats and three Republicans) but only one co-sponsor (Debra Altschiller, a Democrat) in the state Senate.

The measure would allow health care providers to “provide a prescription for medical-assistance-in-dying medications to an individual” after determining that individuals have “mental capacity; terminal condition; [a] prognosis of six months or less, or is enrolled in Medicare-certified hospice; voluntarily made the request for medical assistance in dying; and the ability to self-administer the medical assistance in dying medications.”

If the New Hampshire House of Representatives confirms the vote in favor of HB 1273, the state Senate will then take up the bill. The upper chamber is comprised of 24 members (14 Republicans and 10 Democrats); but since the 179-176 vote in the lower house was not along party lines, it is unclear how the Senate would line up on the controversial issue.

Whither Sununu?

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has also not disclosed his explicit support or opposition to HB 1273. The Republican politician, who decided not to run for reelection in 2024, has both Catholic and Greek Orthodox ancestry. He was sworn in on a Greek Orthodox Bible that belonged to his great- great-grandfather. 

However, in a March 10 interview with Manchester-based WMUR-TV, Sununu expressed that he was open to considering the proposed law: “I don’t want to say it’s absolutely dead on arrival.” 

New Hampshire would join neighboring Maine and Vermont if HB 1273 passes the state Senate and is signed into law by the governor. It would also become the 11th state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

The Diocese of Manchester, which takes up the entire state of New Hampshire, has rallied opposition to the bill. Bishop Peter Libasci issued a document on end-of-life issues in April 2022, mere months before the introduction of the legislation.

Rationale for opposition to bill

The document, titled “Three Beliefs: A Guide for New Hampshire Catholics on End-of-Life Decisions,” indicated that the faithful “should avoid the opposite extremes of the deliberate hastening of death on the one hand and the overzealous use of treatment or care to artificially extend life and prolong the dying process on the other.”

The diocesan guide also made it clear that “assisted suicide (or ‘euthanasia’) is a grave evil. It is always morally wrong. In the Catholic view, there is never a situation where it is right to either assist in someone else’s suicide or to arrange for it on one’s own behalf.”

An update on the Manchester Diocese’s “Catholic Citizenship News” website, posted after the House’s initial vote, disclosed that “the diocese is working alongside the NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention, a diverse group that includes health care providers, veterans, and people with disabilities and their advocates. The Church teaches that suicide is always a tragedy and that a caring community should respond with hospice and palliative care to better meet the needs of those facing the end of life.”

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