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House Dems work to change health workers' conscience rights bill

House Dems work to change health workers' conscience rights bill

Dustin Hurst
March 16, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 16, 2010

House Democrats unsuccessfully tried to change Sen. Chuck Winder's, R-Boise, much debated health workers' conscience rights legislation on the House floor Tuesday.  The failed procedural maneuver would have sent the bill to the House's amending order, a place where lawmakers have a free shot at changing legislation in any manner if supported by enough House members.

The effort, led by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, focused on the bill's provisions that allow health workers the right to object to certain end-of -life measures.  Rusche argued before the full House that the end-of-life language in the bill should be removed to create a better bill which all sides could likely agree on.

Fellow Democrat Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told lawmakers that the bill could potentially affect a patient's end-of-life care by removing the patient's own decision-making and putting the decision in the hands of doctors who may or may not, according to their conscience, follow certain end-of-life directives proscribed by the patient.

Republicans, including Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, both co-sponsors of the legislation, objected to Burgoyne's assertions, saying that there is no evidence that there have been instances of doctors violating end-of-life directives in states that already have conscience legislation.

"This is not a trivial matter for families going through end-of-life matter," said Burgoyne, adding that the legislation could "put physicians and patients potentially at odds."

Loertscher, who serves as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which heard two days of debate on the bill, said that the legislation received "overwhelming support" from committee members, and that no lawmakers on the panel felt the legislation needed amending.

Labrador, joined by Idaho Falls Republican Erik Simpson, said that David Irwin, representing the AARP, a group which is firmly against the legislation, could provide the pair of lawmakers with no evidence of violations of end-of-life directives.  Labrador went so far as to say that the group is "misleading the public" on the ramifications of the bill.

Several lawmakers testified that they have received hundreds of  e-mails about the legislation from AARP members in opposition to the legislation.

In the end, the Democrats failed to gain enough support to send the bill to the amending order.  According the House calendar, the measure is scheduled to be debated Wednesday.  The bill also allows health care workers outside of hospitals to object to dispensing certain medications, including emergency contraceptives.

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