Editorial: N.H. Needs to Discuss End-of-Life Issues

Friday, June 19, 2015
Last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed House Bill 151, an innocuous bill that would have created a panel to study end-of-life decisions.

The committee would have looked at states that have passed aid-in-dying laws, which allow terminally ill people to be prescribed medication to end their lives at the time and place of their choosing. It also would have studied other states’ practices in the area.

Hassan’s objections to the bill, which was passed by both the Senate and House, sound reasonable enough. She claims to be vetoing it because of the panel’s proposed makeup — six representatives and one senator.

She would prefer, she writes, a membership that includes “a broad cross-section of the individuals who understand these complex and emotional issues best: the medical community, patients, advocates for the elderly and people who experience disabilities, and the religious community.” A broad membership might be a good idea. But if the goal of such a committee is to examine ways that the state’s laws could change, why wouldn’t lawmakers be the right people to guide it? And if the goal of the committee is to hopelessly deadlock — which anti-euthanasia religious advocates might prefer — Hassan’s proposal is on target.

The governor gave the game away shortly after that passage in her veto message, in which she wrote: “I believe that the goals of this bill begin to take New Hampshire down a precarious path.” She does not specify the precarious path. Is it discussing aid-in-dying legislation? Is it allowing those with terminal illness the right to determine how they leave the world? What about those outcomes is precarious, exactly?

Washington, Oregon and Vermont have passed such legislation. Does the governor believe that residents in those states have suffered from the laws? Does she believe they have been misused?

It seems more likely that Hassan wants to avoid a political hot potato.

Working with a broad range of interested parties on controversial issues is a good thing. And the governor doubtless would rather spend her time focusing on the state’s budget and the thicket of issues surrounding it. The wrong bill at the wrong time, cannily exploited by her foes, could cause no end of headaches.

But vetoing this modest bill, especially given that the committee it formed would have virtually no power besides the ability to file expense reports, seems hasty at best and cynical at worst.

New Hampshire will have this discussion eventually. It will come to the Statehouse, and it will come to future governors. The huge cohort of aging baby boomers, a group used to getting its way in matters of health care, makes it a necessity.

The only question for the governor, really, is whether she’s willing to lead such a discussion or pass it off to a successor.

The Concord Monitor