Elections, Healthcare, West Virginia Legislature

House adopts two resolutions condemning, prohibiting euthanasia

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates held an extended debate on the topic of euthanasia on Thursday, advancing two resolutions on the topic.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, authored both resolutions.

The first was HCR 74, “Defending Life by Rejecting Euthanasia.” It is a lengthy statement of the sentiment of the House, extending just over two pages. That it would be a touchy subject became immediately clear when a Democrat called for it to be read in full.

It opens with pronouncements on what makes a society strong, and says, “It is necessary that the practice of euthanasia, which intentionally encourages and ultimately enacts the suicide of the elderly and the infirm, remain as foreign to the common life of West Virginia as it is to the health of any just and reasonable society.”

While it ostensibly only affects the end of life, the resolution says, it demoralizes life at all stages by characterizing life as conditional and end-of-life care as an option, not a duty. “The very possibility that doctors, whose authority in our society can be profound, may prescribe suicide as a solution to a terminal disease or disheartening prognosis, presents the act as a medicine rather than as the definitive rejection of all medicine, and so encourages suicidal desire to flourish.”

It concludes, “The State of West Virginia rejects the bleak and morbid world that euthanasia and the commodification of death entails. … Against this culture of death, we must offer a vision of a restored and rejuvenated West Virginia, a community whose strength is known by the happiness of the weak, the infirm, and the elderly, who are not only aided and assisted by their family, friends, and society until the day they die, but whose very suffering is the irreplaceable means by which we may transcend ourselves, enter deeply into communion with one another, fulfill our nature as social creatures, and learn the sacrificial love that so often gives life its meaning.”

Having been read in full, there was no debate and it was adopted 87-9, with all the opposing votes by Democrats, including the four from Monongalia and Marion counties (one Mon Democrat was absent). It goes to the Senate.

The resolution that followed spurred the long debate: HJR 28, to put before the voters a constitutional amendment prohibiting physician-assisted suicide. It does not prohibit withdrawing life-sustaining treatment at the request of the patient or patient’s representative.

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, was among those who said this practice is already illegal and the resolution is unnecessary. “Just because you agree with a policy does not meen that it reaches to the standard to put on a constitutional ballot.”

Delegate Anitra Hamilton, D-Monongalia, is a healthcare worker and said patients have the right to direct their care. “No doctor can help someone die,” and she didn’t understand the point of the resolution.

Many for and against the measure told their stories of how suicide touched their lives.

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, said this was the most traumatic and troubling vote of his years in the Legislature. His first experience came when he was 14 and he saw a neighbor who’d lit himself on fire, and his mother told him anyone who commits suicide is a coward.

He contemplated suicide once himself, and later refused an opportunity to end his life when he was dealing with cancer. “I believe that suicide is a a sin, but I also believe it is a choice. … No matter how I vote on this bill, I will be both wrong and right.”

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said he once worked as the mental hygiene commissioner in Fayette County, where the New River Gorge Bridge was a draw for those considering suicide. But many would pause because the center of the bridge looks down on rocks, not the river; and that pause gave law enforcement time to talk them down.

Those who paused and were brought to him, he said, were always thankful for the second chance, and he felt good about about putting into the Constitution not having someone facilitate death for them.

While suicide is a deep personal decision, he said, “I think the people of West Virginia would rather have someone put an arm around that person that is hurt and in pain than put a needle in their arm.”

Delegate Tom Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, talked about his brothers mental health challenges. “I’m glad that my brother has never sought out someone to take the place of God.”

McGeehan said physician-assisted suicide is legal in 10 states and D.C., and 19 more are considering it. Oregon allows people from other states to come in, wait two weeks, get a prescription and go die in a devoted hotel or Airbnb. “If you think this isn’t a problem, trust me, it is.”

The vote was 88-9, with the same Democrats voting no, and it also goes to the Senate.

Senate bills passed

Across the Capitol, the Senate passed three bills dealing with voter registration, all requested by the secretary of state’s office, and sent them to the House.

SB 622 trims the time period for removing inactive voters from voter rolls from eight years to six years. Under current law, when a voter is inactive for four years, which would include not voting and not renewing a driver’s license, among other things, the county clerk must send out a confirmation notice to the voter.

If the card isn’t returned, the person goes on inactive status, and after two more federal election cycles of inactivity – another four years – the clerk would then purge that voter from the rolls.

The bill trims the first four-year waiting period to two years to send out the confirmation notice. Purging would be halted by the person voting or updating their registration. The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2025 (as would the next two). It passed 34-0 without debate.

SB 623 would require the Division of Motor Vehicles to send driver’s license or photo ID images, for those who register to vote at the DMV, to the secretary of state’s office.

The DMV told senators in committee that it already sends images of voter signatures to the office, which are sent out to the county clerks. This will give an extra layer of security and can make the pollworkers’ jobs easier by giving them an extra form of identification when a signature might be unclear or not match the voter’s signature that day.

It passed 33-1 without debate.

SB 624 would enable the secretary of state and thereby the county clerks to purge voter rolls by canceling voter registration for those who are no longer West Virginia residents and have obtained driver’s licenses in other states. The notices would come from other states via compacts with those states.

It passed 34-0 with no debate.

Email: dbeard@domininopost.com