The Idaho Senate is set to cast a deciding vote on changing the state law that protects health care workers’ conscience rights that protects health care workers. The legislation is opposed by the AARP, the large group representing elderly Idahoans.
The change to the law would clarify that doctors need to follow patients’ wishes for end-of-life care, specifically a living will or physician’s orders for scope of treatment (POST), before withdrawing treatment and transferring care to another doctor. The legislation cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee Monday and now heads to the Senate floor.
“We need to have clarity and we need to make sure that people’s wishes are carried out, but at the same time preserve the rights of hospitals and doctors,” said Bob Aldridge, an attorney specializing in elder law who helped write the legislation. Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, who sponsored the plan in the House, said it clarifies the existing law.
Opponents said the change doesn’t fix the health care conscience law passed by lawmakers last year. “I have to say, I’m disappointed,” said Lynn Young of Meridian, a member of AARP’s national policy council. She called the legislation a “narrow fix” that could still allow health care workers to violate Idahoans’ rights and end-of-life wishes
“This bill misses the mark,” Young said. Young also said she’s concerned that the legislation touches on end-of-life issues, yet is listed in Idaho’s laws among abortion laws. The conscience law also touches on doctor’s use of drugs that could trigger abortions. AARP has said it will track the votes of Idaho lawmakers on the plan, which passed the House by a 53-17 margin.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said AARP’s opposition to the change and the original conscience law hasn’t been borne out in real life. He said AARP has ginned its membership up in opposing the plan, but later apologized for his choice of words. Davis said the legislation balances the rights of elderly Idahoans and the potential eternal consequences of health care workers.
Davis specifically asked Clark Limb, the owner, operator, and chaplain for Treasure Valley Hospice, if any of his patients’ living wills hadn’t been honored after the conscience rights law passed last year. Limb didn’t have any evidence of that happening, but said he’d like to see more changes to the law.
“The legislation is a great idea. I think the intent is good, but it doesn’t go far enough,” Limb said.
“It’s a shame we don’t have patients’ rights, because we seem to have rights for everyone else,” said Cay Marquart, whose father, a former district judge in Nebraska, died last year.
The Senate panel approved the plan, despite both Democrats on the committee saying they couldn’t support it.