March 10 - Assisted Suicide Related Bills Rejected

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News March 10, 2014

NH House Happenings By Rep. John Cloutier

Assisted Suicide Related Bills Rejected

Granite State drivers could soon be prohibited from using handheld cell phones and similar electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, if last week's decision by New Hampshire!s House of Representatives becomes law.

On March 5, by a 192-133 roll call vote, the House approved an amended version of House Bill 1360, which would ban the use of such handheld phones and devices for all individuals age 18 and over, while driving except to report an emergency. But drivers would still be allowed to use hands-free phones and other electronic devices, devices electronically integrated into motor vehicles like Onstar, as well as non-cellular two-way radios. Additionally, all individuals under age 18 would be prohibited from using any electronic devices whether hands- free or not, except to report an emergency.

House Bill 1360's approval followed a fierce debate on the House floor, and after a majority of the House Transportation Committee had recommended passage of its amended version. Bill proponents like Lebanon Rep. George Sykes argued that the measure was needed to deal with the increasing number of New Hampshire drivers, who while using such handheld devices, become distracted and cause accidents. They added that the legislation as written would apply to all drivers, even those driving emergency vehicles like ambulances, fire trucks, and police cruisers, except when they are reporting an emergency. Finally, they said that drivers under age 18 should be prohibited from using any electronic devices, whether handheld or hands-free, because they are more likely to become distracted and cause accidents than drivers age 18 and over.

Nevertheless, opponents, led by Manchester Rep. Tim O'Flaherty, declared that the legislation was “an example of tremendous over- reach”, and just a “nanny state” measure which “goes too far.” They admitted distracted driving is a problem, but a problem for which individual drivers should take responsibility. Also, they claimed that the bill, if it becomes law, would be hard to enforce, like the ban on text messaging while driving that became law a few years ago. They added that it would make lawbreakers of drivers simply making phone calls while stuck in a traffic jam. Finally, they said that it would encourage drivers under age 18 to disobey the law because they would have no option to use hands-free devices while driving.

House Bill 1360, whose prime sponsor is Portsmouth Rep. Laura Pantelakos, now proceeds to the Senate for further review. I voted for the amended version of House Bill 1360. I believe from personal experience that the use of cell phones while driving a motor vehicle is at very least a risky practice which can lead to distracted driving, and possibly accidents. While I believe that there are other practices such as eating, drinking, reading, and putting on makeup while driving which are also risky, the use of cell phones is becoming the most common distracted driving practice from my observations on our highways. I liked the fact that the bill as written, would make no exceptions - banning the use of all handheld electronic devices for everybody while driving, except to report an emergency. Finally, I like the bill's provision which prohibits drivers under age 18 from using any such devices, whether hands-free or not, because these drivers have the highest percentages of vehicular accidents of any age group. Consequently, these new drivers should be encouraged to exclusively keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.

Also on March 5, the House rejected two related pieces of legislation in regard to assisting individuals to commit suicide. Both pieces were rejected by wide margins after a majority of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee had earlier recommended that both be rejected.

The first piece, House Bill 1216, would have revised current state law which makes a person guilty of a crime, if he or she purposely solicits another person to commit suicide. In other words, the bill would have simply struck out the word, “solicits,” from current law. But the Criminal Justice Committee, in its majority rejection recommendation, argued that the word “solicits” as written in the current law means to “entice or strongly urge” to commit suicide. Consequently, they declared that striking out “solicits” might encourage more people to commit suicide.

However, a minority of Criminal Justice, which supported House Bill 1216, stated that the legislation would simply remove a “murky” word from current law in regard to suicide. They added that individuals are responsible for their own bodies, and are capable of discerning whether they are being encouraged to commit suicide.

The second related piece, House Bill 1292, would have created an affirmative defense for a person who causes or aids another person in committing suicide, if the second person has a life expectancy of two years or less. The majority of Criminal Justice, in its rejection recommendation, declared that the bill would violate state government!s “fundamental duty to respect human life,” and “pose a threat to the lives of innocent persons.” Furthermore, they said that advance directives, living wills, palliative and hospice care, as well as DNR(Do Not Resuscitate) Orders are sufficient in meeting the needs of individuals with less than two years to live. 

Nevertheless, a minority of Criminal Justice, which favored House Bill 1292, said that the measure would simply allow an individual “the dignity of best determining what to do with his or her body.” House Bill 1292, whose prime sponsor was Rep. O'Flaherty, was rejected on a 232-59 division vote, while House Bill 1216, whose prime sponsor was the same representative was defeated by an even wider 259-45 division vote. For the record, I voted against both bills. I believe that while suicide should not be a crime and is ultimately an individual!s decision- it should not be encouraged, even for those who have a terminal or debilitating illness. Emotionally-distraught but physically healthy individuals should be encouraged to seek counseling, not commit suicide.