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Change to Idaho conscience law awaits Otter’s signature

Wed., March 30, 2011

BOISE – A narrow change to Idaho’s “conscience law” was sent to Gov. Butch Otter for signature Tuesday, but it’s not the change many seniors wanted, and some claim it will further erode their ability to choose their end-of-life care.

The conscience law, enacted last year, allows any health care provider to refuse to provide any type of treatment that violates the provider’s conscience if it has to do with abortion, emergency contraception, stem-cell research or end-of-life care.

Seniors from around the state and the Idaho AARP have raised strong objections to the inclusion of “end-of-life care” in that bill, saying it interferes with patients’ legal rights to specify what type of care they want to receive, and not receive, as they’re dying. They called for removing end-of-life care from the conscience law, and several bills were proposed to do that, but a House committee passed HB 187 instead.

That bill, which won final passage in the Senate on Tuesday, says physicians must comply with the existing living will law when they exercise their conscience rights, but it doesn’t mention other health care providers.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said there are 34 communities in Idaho that have no physicians, only nurse practitioners or physicians’ assistants, and patients who die there need to know their wishes will be respected.

The Idaho AARP immediately called on Otter to veto the bill, saying it would “force dying patients to go doctor shopping.”

Jim Wordelman, state director of the organization, called the bill “government overreach, plain and simple – and at the worst possible time, the end of someone’s life.”

An angry Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “Those of us who voiced concerns about this bill on this floor last year were promised a fix. This is not a fix.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “There were simple solutions that would have actually done something to this bill and remedied what many people think is a grave error.” Seniors, he said, are “furious about the end-of-life inclusion in the statute.” Bock said the new bill “does absolutely nothing.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said since the conscience law was enacted last year, he’s not heard of “a single example of where this has interfered with someone’s living will or their right to determine their care at the end of life.” He told the Senate, “I personally don’t think this amendment is necessary, this change, but I’m going to support it” because it provides clarification.

Last year, Otter allowed the conscience bill to become law without his signature, saying he was concerned about the end-of-life issue and wanted it fixed if it caused problems.

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