March 11, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho Senate votes to make assisted suicide a felony

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, argues for SB 1070, his bill to make assisted suicide a felony, in the Idaho Senate on Friday; the bill passed on a 31-2 vote, and now moves to the House.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - The Idaho Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to make assisted suicide a felony, revoke the licenses of doctors who violate the new law and allow people to get injunctions to block anyone they think might be planning an assisted suicide.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, the bill’s sponsor, said several of Idaho’s surrounding states, including Washington, have moved to legalize or permit assisted suicide, and he doesn’t think Idaho should go that way. “It is a slippery slope to say the least,” he told the Senate. “To me, that kind of standard of care … sends a message to our elderly people … that some lives just aren’t worth living, and that death is an acceptable alternative treatment.”

The bill, SB 1070, has been amended, and now includes clear provisions stating that doctors following a patient’s wishes in the patient’s living will or advance care directive regarding removing artificial life supports are not violating the bill’s provisions, nor are doctors alleviating a dying patient’s pain, even if the pain relief will hasten death, as long as it’s not administered specifically to cause death.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who lost her husband, father and father-in-law in the past year and opposed the bill before the amendments, said she’s now supporting it. “It is a better bill,” she said. But she said, “We talk about not wanting government in our business, not wanting to be over-regulated. … Yet we tell people how to conceive, how to live our last days and how to die.” Stennett said, “As we continue to see bills determining people’s life choices, senators, please, please come from a compassionate space.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician, said, “This is an intimate issue for me.” He said he opposes physician-assisted suicide, but is concerned about the bill, because “it puts a large third person in the room when a difficult … conversation needs to occur.” Schmidt said, “Life, all of it, is a gift and should be cherished.” But, he said, “People who ask for help dying are suffering, and physicians should address suffering, that’s their job. My discomfort with this bill is that it doesn’t in a clear way encourage the addressing of suffering.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said Idaho’s current law walks a fine line between criminalizing conduct and recognizing patient needs, and said the bill isn’t needed. Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said she thought the portion of the bill about medications that hasten death had conflicting wording.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I think if you do support banning assisted suicide, you should support this bill … for the reason that it is a specific law.”

In the end, just LeFavour and Bilyeu voted against the bill; it now moves to the House. All North Idaho senators who were present voted in favor of the bill; Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, missed the vote. The bill still must pass the House and receive the governor’s signature to become law.

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