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Idaho moves to ban assisted suicide

BOISE - Amid quotes from scripture and urgings from anti-abortion activists, an Idaho Senate committee on Wednesday approved legislation to outlaw physician-assisted suicide in the state, making it a felony.

Jason Herring, president of Right to Life of Idaho, told the Senate State Affairs Committee, quoting from the book of Psalms, “Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. … We don’t believe that this belongs to a doctor or hospital, this is not something that belongs to a panel or even a patient, this is something that belongs to our Creator.”

He told lawmakers that hastening death is “usurping the authority of God.”

The bill, SB 1070, was sponsored by anti-abortion activists but was negotiated with the Idaho Medical Association, which got wording added to protect physicians making appropriate patient-care decisions for dying patients or following those patients’ living wills or advance care directives. The IMA now supports the bill.

Ken McClure, IMA lobbyist, told the committee, “Under current law, it is not at all clear whether assisted suicide is a crime or not.” It’s not currently a part of Idaho’s standards for patient care, he said, and doctors don’t want it to be. “This law gives a physician the assurance that if proper medical care is being given, he or she is safe from prosecution,” McClure told the senators.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who noted she has lost three family members in the past year including her husband, former Sen. Clint Stennett, raised questions about whether the bill would hold patients, family members or doctors criminally liable for decisions about when to remove artificial life supports. “These are all very personal personal things for the family and the individual,” she said.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said the bill came in response to a controversial talk at an IMA convention earlier this year urging support for physician-assisted suicide in Idaho, which is legal in several surrounding states including Washington. “It’s pretty clear that Idaho is targeted for a similar type of a movement, and there are those of us who don’t believe that that’s the direction that Idahoans want to go,” Fulcher said.

The bill makes it a felony to assist in a suicide, plus revokes the licenses of physicians who do so. It also authorizes court injunctions against anyone “reasonably believed to be about to violate” the new law.

David Ripley of Idaho Chooses Life, who presented the bill, said he thought the penalties were “quite reasonable given the fact that we’re talking about ending a person’s life.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.

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