Thursday, January 09, 2014

Live Free or Die on Someone Else's Terms

The 2014 legislative session has begun. This week marked the first day of voting. In the NH House, this meant beginning with dealing with some old business, including possible overrides of three bills that were vetoed over the summer by Governor Hassan. One of those bills was HB 403, a bill to establish a study committee to examine end of life issues. Hassan’s statement on the veto essentially said that we have great advanced directives, and therefore the study committee isn’t necessary.

Governor Hassan has a son who has developmental disabilities. The DD community and their advocates have serious concerns about end of life issues and assisted suicide. People who have developmental disabilities may experience indifferent medical treatment, especially in hospitals, where they are sometimes regarded as something less than human. Their fears of being fodder for euthanasia are not unfounded.

I don’t think Hassan’s (very legitimate) fears should determine our public policy. This was a bill for a study committee. A study committee would involve a lot of different views from all over the spectrum. It would be a big and potentially rich conversation - if it were allowed to happen. It’s great that we have strong advanced directives in NH, but that still means dying on someone else’s terms.

Death is something we apparently aren’t adult enough to discuss or plan for. We have a whole language of euphemisms created to avoid and disguise it. No one dies any more. They “pass away,” or simply “pass.” In a world of sophisticated medical treatment, we need very much to have a big  conversation about how we die, and what our rights in that process are.

Unfortunately, the ability to have thoughtful discussions becomes less likely with each passing day. A look at the comment section of any online WMUR story provides an illustration of the level of public discourse present in our state. The study committee would have been able to transcend that. In fact, the study committee would have provided Governor Hassan and other DD advocates with a platform to educate the public on their concerns, and the awful history of how people with developmental disabilities have been treated. I wish she’d chosen to trust the process.

The House voted not to override the governor’s veto, on a vote of 218-124. Thanks to the shiny new voting system in the House chambers, roll call votes are posted almost automatically on the General Court website. A look at the way folks voted was interesting. There were very clearly those who voted not to overturn the veto out of partisan loyalty to the governor. Just as clearly, there were those who voted to override the veto as a statement of partisan opposition to anything the governor does. There were also those who voted to override the veto for thoughtful reasons. I don’t believe that Gene Chandler or Karen Umberger voted for the override out of sheer partisan mean spiritedness.

The votes from the Free Staters and their allies were also illustrative. These are folks who love to lecture us about freedom and gummint interference, so one might expect them to have been united in their votes to override the veto, and have the conversation about getting Big Gummint out of our personal decisions. One would be sadly disappointed.

Free State Representatives Laura Jones, Carol McGuire, Keith Murphy, Calvin Pratt, Emily Sandblade, and Mark Warden all voted nay on overriding the veto. They love lofty theoretical discussions about freedom and liberty, but when it came right down to the freedom to have a discussion, these liberty lovers voted to shut it down. They’re okay with the state telling you how you get to die.  

Free State Representatives Michael Garcia, Dan McGuire, Tim O’Flaherty, Joel Winters, and Michael Sylvia voted to override the veto, which is consistent with Free State philosophy.

Some of the FSP’s loudest allies voted inconsistently as well. Representatives Burt, Rideout, Itse, and Lambert all voted not to override the veto. George Lambert is so concerned with freedom that he wants to eliminate sugar packets from restaurants, to free you from the awful tyranny of sanitation – but he doesn’t think a study committee on end of life issues is relevant to freedom.

As for those who voted nay out of loyalty to the governor – you disappoint me.

Should someone with a terminal illness be allowed to opt out when they choose? I vote yes for that. The late David Emerson wanted to die about 6 months before he actually did. He should have been able to make that decision. Whose body is it, anyhow? Whose life is it? We ought to dive in and discuss all of the fears, doubts, religious beliefs, and hear all of the pros and cons. Put it all on the table and talk about it – all of it - with respect for every position. If only we could.

“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.”  Alexis de Tocqueville

© sbruce 2014   Bi-weekly column published in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 


Anonymous said...

HB 403 as it passed both chambers would have been moot if the veto were overridden. By its terms in Section 5 the commission expired November 1, 2013.

- Rep. Marty Jack

susanthe said...

Thank you for that clarification Rep. Jack.

We still need to have the discussion.