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House approves Winder's health workers' conscience rights legislation

House approves Winder's health workers' conscience rights legislation

Dustin Hurst
March 17, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 17, 2010

With much less debate than expected, members of the Idaho House of Representatives approved Sen. Chuck Winder's, R-Boise, legislation that would allow health workers across the state the ability to abstain from performing certain medical procedures due to conscientious objections.  The legislation also provides protection for pharmacists who object to dispensing certain medications, such as emergency contraception pills.

The House sponsor for the legislation, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the bill was not crafted to deny people health care, but would affirm a worker's right to his own conscience.  He told lawmakers that the bill contains safeguards that would prohibit medical workers from objecting to provide treatment in a life-or-death situation when no other medical personnel are available to do so.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, argued that the bill would violate the licensing agreement between the state and the provider.  He said he feels that when a doctor or surgeon is issued a license to practice medicine in the state, they are required to provide care to anyone in need.  Though he feels that "issues of conscience are important to all of us and should be respected," he believes the bill being pushed by Loertscher and Winder fails to protect the rights of patients.

The only other legislator to voice opposition to the plan was Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who said the bill exemplifies a "big brother" mentality for the state government.  Burgoyne also said he feels the legislation  is "an extraordinary intrusion by government into their private lives."

House members passed the bill 51-19 on a mostly party line vote.  Two Democrats, Rep. Branden Durst, Boise, and James Ruchti, Pocatello, joined with Republicans in  voting in favor of the legislation, while two Republicans, Rep. Tom Trail, Moscow, and Rep. George Eskridge, Dover, joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

The vote Wednesday came just one day after House Democrats failed in a bid to send the bill to be amended due to the end-of-life language in the bill.  Democrats, including Rusche and Burgoyne, argued that the legislation would violate a patient's right to have end-of-life-care directives followed, while Republicans argued it did no such thing.  The maneuver was defeated by House Republicans, minus Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, who voted to amend the bill.  Smith did not vote on the legislation Wednesday.

The AARP firmly opposes the measure and has prompted its members to contact legislators to voice opposition to it.

“The deathbed is the wrong place to learn someone else’s conscience,” said David Irwin, who represents AARP at the Capitol, at a previous hearing on the bill.  Irwin added that the legislation, which the AARP feels is “bad policy,” would more adversely affect rural areas because medical patients often have more limited access to medical treatment than those in more urban areas of the state.

The legislation, already passed by the Senate, now heads to the desk of Gov. Butch Otter for his signature.

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