March 12, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho Senate passes bill to make assisted suicide a felony

By The Spokesman-Review
 
What’s next

The bill now moves to the House. It must pass the House and receive the governor’s signature before it becomes law.

BOISE – The Idaho Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to make assisted suicide a felony, revoke the licenses of doctors who violate the 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, 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, Senate Bill 1070, has been amended, and now includes clear provisions stating that doctors following a patient’s living will or advance care directive regarding removing artificial life supports are not violating the law. In addition, doctors alleviating a dying patient’s pain won’t be in violation, even if the pain relief will hasten death, as long as it isn’t administered specifically to cause death.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, whose husband, father and father-in-law died in the past year, opposed the bill before the amendments. Now she supports 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.

“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. “It puts a large third person in the room when a difficult … conversation needs to occur,” Schmidt 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. 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 Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, voted against the bill; it now moves to the House. All North Idaho senators who were present voted in favor of the bill.

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