CONCORD — The House Thursday soundly rejected legislation that would have allowed a terminally ill patient to seek a lethal prescription from cooperating physicians.
Under House Bill 1325, the "Death with Dignity Act," the patient must have received a prognosis of six months or less to live by two physicians. The vote against the bill was 219-66.
But the House approved establishing a new seven-member committee to study "end-of-life" decisions and the state's medical directive law. The vote to pass House Bill 1226 was 162-126.
The "end-of-life" committee would also investigate "the positive and negative effects of legislation in states that have enacted aid-in-dying laws," and "how to encourage careful and responsible deliberation about this complex and emotional issue."
Chief proponent Rep. Rich Watrous, D-Concord, maintained that as the state is "rapidly aging, and modern medicine becomes more intrusive, end-of-life care should be periodically examined by the Legislature so that our citizens maintain control over their lives and determine what medicine and procedures they wish to receive."
On the "Death With Dignity" lethal prescription bill, opponents said assisted suicide is the "incorrect approach" to dealing with the terminally ill and could lead to abuse of the elderly and disabled.
But prime sponsor Rep. Joel Winters, D-Nashua, said everyone has a right to determine "the rendering of their own medical care."
He said it was based on Oregon legislation that has been in effect for about 15 years and said his bill contained several "protections" to prevent abuse.
"The point is to allow someone who is suffering a choice," Winters said. Once the prescription drug is obtained, he said, "They can choose each and every day whether they want to go on."
But Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, said the bill would provide "a new deadly avenue for predators and could lead to a convenient termination a life so that imperfections, consequences and conflict" can result in a person's death.
"Other people would eventually be deciding whether you should live or not," Peterson said.
"Death is not a treatment," Peterson said. "Doctors take an oath and that oath does not include killing their patients."
Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, said the bill was fraught with problems.
"When the fatal prescription is prescribed, who will pick it up?" he asked. "And if the person who receives it decides not to use it, where do these drugs go? They could go into your medicine cabinet."
The "end of life" committee bill will require recommendations by Sept. 1, which Peterson said was too soon for such complex and important questions.
But Watrous said the time frame is adequate. He said the Legislature occasionally studies such issues "and it is time to do so again."