By Chris Haring

With the ongoing expansion of physician-assisted death laws, those who oppose medical aid in dying are developing new and disturbing strategies and tactics.

As the right-to-die movement continues to grow, our ongoing fight to expand the availability of medical aid in dying across the country has brought folks from all walks of life together, recognizing the crucial importance of dignity and autonomy during one of life’s most vulnerable stages.

In response, our adversaries are adapting, employing new and disturbing tactics to thwart the progress of Death with Dignity laws across the nation. Thus, while the momentum currently boasted by supporters of physician-assisted death is producing tangible results, it’s more important than ever that we continue to shine a light on these insidious efforts.

We have seen these new tactics in states including West Virginia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Indiana, where opponents have employed many legislative maneuvers to stop our progress.

West Virginia poses first-ever Constitutional challenge to Death with Dignity.

One of the biggest threats facing the future of the Death with Dignity movement comes from West Virginia. This year, legislators passed a resolution that placed a ballot initiative on this year’s November ballot, proposing a constitutional amendment that would forbid physicians and healthcare providers from participating in “medically assisted suicide.” 

While medical aid in dying is already illegal under current West Virginia law, this constitutional amendment would be a first among states explicitly prohibiting Death with Dignity, further obstructing any future efforts to legalize aid in dying practices.

What is so clearly distressing about the developments in West Virginia is that it is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a broader pattern of opposition tactics unfolding across the country. In multiple states now, our opponents are pursuing tactics that amplify the lies they have been telling about our movement for decades, no matter how many times they have been disproven, and using those lies as the basis of legislative campaigns. 

“After 30 years of relying on scare tactics and slippery slope arguments, our opponents are stuck. Death with Dignity laws work as they are supposed to: supporting a narrow slice of the population–terminally ill individuals who are suffering–while protecting everyone else. Because the tired arguments of our opponents have been debunked over and over again, they are forced to try new, aggressive tactics. We recognize these tactics for the nonsense they are, and we will not let them prevail. “ Said Dr. Peg Sandeen, CEO of Death with Dignity. “Furthermore, the choice of smaller population and more rural states to launch this effort seems designed to help our opponents build momentum for a larger effort at attacking medical aid in dying. This is a transparent and mean-spirited attack on vulnerable individuals for political gain. This is not about people who are dying in West Virginia or New Hampshire, this is about all of us.”

Death with Dignity passes the New Hampshire House, but obstacles remain

Recent events in New Hampshire are a stark reminder of the lengths opponents will go to undermine the majority’s will. Following a 179-176 bipartisan victory in favor of the New Hampshire End of Life Options Act (HB1283) in the state’s House of Representatives, a “motion to reconsider” was filed by a legislator who claimed to have “a change of heart” after voting for the bill, threatening to overturn the hard-won progress made by supporters of medical aid in dying. 

In response to this affront to the 71% of New Hampshire voters who support passing assisted-dying legislation, we mobilized. Thanks to the work of advocates in New Hampshire, hundreds of letters flooded the offices of state representatives, asking them to respect the will of New Hampshire residents.

Our efforts worked as the House defeated the motion to reconsider by a 210-147 margin. Now HB 1283 will move on to the Senate, where we are sure our opponents will once again use every trick in their arsenal to defeat us.

Among medical aid-in-dying opposition across several states, common tactics emerge

In Indiana, two resolutions condemning “assisted suicide” – a common misnomer intentionally deployed by opponents to conflate it with the legal, regulated practice of medical aid in dying – serve as ominous harbingers of future legislative battles over expanded end-of-life options. Again, our opponents are willing to knowingly lie to and mislead the public in the name of building barriers to any future movement to pass Death with Dignity legislation.

This comes after bills were introduced in New Jersey to repeal their state’s medical aid in dying law and update the crimes of coercing a patient to request medication under New Jersey’s Death with Dignity law to scare patients and practitioners away from utilizing the law. 

Similar to the attacks on reproductive rights that led to our current post-Roe America, we know that it can take only one landmark decision or other pivotal moment to drastically alter the legal landscape surrounding aid in dying. In this movement, these legislative threats from religiously motivated forces could be the equivalent.

Through education, awareness, and mobilization, we can maintain aid in dying’s legislative momentum

Constituent voices matter in every state legislature, and with growing public support for end-of-life options like Death with Dignity, the more people speak up, the more successful we’ll be.

Our legislative updates will continue to track opposition bills aiming to undermine Death with Dignity laws and help provide a launching point for advocates who want to get involved in their state’s movements. As opponents find new ways to fight our movement, it’s crucial for advocates to get involved at the state level. Share this blog to raise awareness of the opposition’s lengths and our need for more help protecting and advancing compassionate end-of-life care.

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