A False Form of Mercy: Physician Assisted Suicide

HB 291, introduced this legislative session 2019, would establish a committee to study end-of-life care. Sponsors of the bill made clear when the bill was introduced that if passed, the study committee would consider assisted suicide as one type of “care.”

Since HB 291 makes no effort to exclude physician assisted suicide as one type of “care”, Cornerstone opposes it. In the wake of all this, we would like to clarify our position on physician assisted suicide.

Cornerstone has always stood for the dignity of human life. We believe that physicianassisted suicide and euthanasia are contrary to human dignity, a false form of mercy, and a counterfeit of real compassion. We will always oppose any policy that defines them as “medical treatment.” Any legislative study of end-of-life issues that leaves open the possibility of legalizing the prescription of an intentionally lethal dose of drugs is a measure that advances assisted suicide.
Our opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia is linked to respect for palliative care, hospice, and behavioral health supports that offer care without killing.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are dangerously attractive methods of controlling health care costs. We refuse to put a price tag on human dignity. Palliative, rehabilitative, and psychological care will always be more expensive than a lethal dose of a drug. Under an assisted suicide law, there would be no telling how many people would decide, with the state’s approval, that death is cheaper and therefore preferable. This is insidious coercion to which the elderly and people with disabilities will be particularly susceptible. In states where assisted suicide has been legalized, some people facing chronic or terminal illness have reported that their health insurers will cover lethal drugs but not ongoing care.

It would be a short step from legalizing assisted suicide to forcing taxpayers to fund it as a covered service for Medicaid and Medicare. When the need to cut healthcare costs is of great concern nationwide, we need to be vigilant that a cheap lethal prescription doesn’t become the solution.

We were concerned by proposed (and defeated) assisted suicide legislation in New Hampshire in past years, in which “terminal condition” was defined so broadly as to include diabetes and being HIV-positive. (See HB 1325 from 2014).  Promotion of assisted suicide will inevitably lead to discrimination against people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. Ironically, many if not all of the states in which assisted suicide is legal also have public health programs or policies to discourage suicide among certain populations.

We will not accept misleading phrases like “death with dignity” to refer to prescriptions written to end a human life. There’s no dignity in condoning suicide for someone who’s disabled or depressed but not for someone who is healthy. There’s no dignity in putting dollar signs between patients and caregivers or in forcing taxpayers to pay for assistedsuicide under Medicaid and Medicare.

Finally, no health care provider should have to make a choice between providing authentic appropriate care and willfully ending life at the demand of a patient.