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Idaho Senate passes end-of-life conscience bill over seniors’ objections

BOISE - The Idaho Senate sent Gov. Butch Otter a measure Tuesday that’s opposed by seniors and the AARP, making a narrow change to the state’s “conscience law,” which lets health care providers refuse to provide end-of-life care that violates the provider’s conscience. The Idaho American Association of Retired Persons immediately called on Otter to veto the bill, saying it would “force dying patients to go doctor shopping.” Jim Wordelman, state director, said, “This bill is government overreach, plain and simple – and at the worst possible time, the end of someone’s life.” 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 AARP have raised strong objections to the inclusion of “end of life care” in that bill, saying it interferes with patients’ legal rights to state in advance in a legal, binding living will 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 doesn’t mention other health care providers. “Those of us who voiced concerns about this bill on this floor last year were promised a fix,” said an angry Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who was among those voting against HB 187. “This is not a fix.” Broadsword told the Senate the bill still “takes the choice out of the patient’s hands.” 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.” 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 protected. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill’s sponsor, said, “I know this is one of those issues that there are definitely two sides on, and there’s not any real gray in the middle.” He 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 … even though it is redundant, it does put into the code a clarification that they must comply with the code dealing with the Natural Death Act,” which codifies living wills. 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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