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Eye On Boise

Loertscher mulls killing bill to protect dying patients’ wishes in living wills

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, says he hasn't decided whether or not to allow a hearing on legislation from Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, to amend Idaho's "conscience law" to ensure that patients' living wills and advanced care directives are followed - but he's  leaning against it. "I'm prone not to," Loertscher told Eye on Boise. "It's only been in effect for six months or less. Let's see how it goes for a while."

Loertscher also said, however, that he hasn't yet had a chance to read the bill, and he might decide to allow a hearing. As the chairman of the committee where the bill's been assigned, Loertscher can kill it simply by sticking it in his desk drawer and never scheduling a hearing on it.

Smith, who introduced the bill after he said numerous constituents pleaded with him to do so, said, "I think it's very important to hear that bill." The original "conscience law," passed last year, was aimed at letting health care providers decline to provide any service that violates their conscience; it's located in the part of Idaho's state code regarding crimes relating to abortions, and mainly deals with abortion and emergency contraception issues. But it also covers anything regarding "end of life care" - and Smith, an attorney, said that directly conflicts with Idaho's existing law that says patients who make out living wills or advance directives have a right to have their wishes followed regarding their care in the final days of life.

"In my view, and so many that I've talked to, including other legal counsel, it does pre-empt the living wills," Smith said. "It lets a care provider make a decision that would be contrary." His bill, HB 28, just adds a line to the existing conscience law saying that "no health care professional shall refuse to follow the patient's or physician's directions as established in" the existing Idaho law regarding living wills. It would make no other changes to the conscience law, of which Loertscher was a co-sponsor.

Loertscher said other states have enacted similar measures and had no problems with end-of-life provisions; he said he's worried about assisted suicide. However, the AARP has heard overwhelming concern about the measure from its members, and amending it is among the seniors' group's top priorities this year. AARP Idaho spokesman David Irwin said, "This is an issue that matters quite a bit to a great number of Idahoans. It deserves a hearing and it deserves to be heard before both houses - we will be working to make that happen."

He added, "I will tell you on behalf of our members, this is an issue that they are gravely concerned about." Living wills and advance care directives are ways that a patient can specify in advance what kinds of care they wish to receive, and not receive, when they are dying.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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