An Idaho Senate panel moved forward with two plans from the anti-abortion rights group Idaho Chooses Life (ICL) that would ban assisted suicide and prevent abortion from being part of medical plans in the federal health care reform.
Legislation outlawing assisted suicide now heads to the Senate for a full vote. The limit on abortion in insurance plans faces a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee. ICL Executive Director David Ripley urged the committee to approve both plans during a Wednesday meeting.
“There was this potential threat that we had to deal with,” Ripley said. “I think we have very strong pro-life leadership in the Senate and House.”
The asssisted suicide ban would punish anyone who causes someone to commit or attempt to commit suicide or intentionally helps a person commit suicide. It is supported by the Idaho Medical Association (IMA), which represents doctors in the state, in part because it includes a safe harbor that would protect doctors who follow general medical practices, including following patients’ end-of-life directives or prescribing palliative care that could hasten or increase the likelihood of death.
“End-of-life care is challenging and complicated,” said Dr. Sherri Brown of Caldwell, a hospice doctor and IMA member. She said the overall intent of her work is to maintain patient comfort and dignity and reduce their symptoms of illness. “Assisted suicide undermines the physician-patient relationship.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, raised concerns that it could open up doctors to prosecution for helping people at the end of their lives. She ultimately didn’t vote against the plan in committee.
“I don’t personally agree with assisted suicide as a concept, but I really have difficulty with people weighing in on what their beliefs systems are generally on a person’s end of life,” Stennett said. “It’s a difficult one. It’s complicated.”
Ken McClure, a lobbyist for the IMA, said the group feels doctors do have a safe harbor that would protect their regular practices.
Several other socially conservative groups spoke in favor of the plan. Jason Herring, a pastor and the president of Right to Life of Idaho, quoted a psalm from the Bible and said the decision to end life is up to God. “This is not something that belongs to a doctor or hospital … a panel or even a patient,” he told lawmakers.
The only opposition during the hearing came from the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. Hannah Brass, the group’s public policy director, said it could have a chilling affect for doctors treating patients at the end of life, because physicians wouldn’t want to risk the job or time in jail by potentially running afoul of the law.
“We are concerned about some of the unintended consequences,” Brass said. “End of life decisions are among some of the most private decisions an individual and family can make.”
The plan is also opposed by Compassion and Choices, a state and national group that promoted assisted suicide plans in several neighboring states, but no one from the group testified at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Ripley’s other legislation would prevent abortion from being part of medical plans that would be on a new health insurance exchange the state is required to create due to the health care reforms approved by Congress last year. Five states already have such laws on the books. Ripley said he opposes the federal reforms, calling state legislation to nullify the reform plan a pro-life measure, but his legislation would protect current limits on including abortion on health insurance plans.
“Part of what we’re fighting for today is letting Idaho determine what Idaho policy is going to be,” Ripley said. “Nobody really knows how this Obamacare deal is going to work out, what we’re going to get stuck with. We do know that right now we have a clear window to make sure that abortion is not covered.”
Idaho state law currently prevents standard insurance plans from paying for abortion, except when a woman’s life is at risk. People can buy separate rider to pay for abortion at an additional cost. Also, Idahoans on Medicaid, which is a medical plan for low income children and adults paid by the federal and state government, only have coverage for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at risk.