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Bill to Protect Patients' Deathbed Decisions Moves Forward

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BOISE • End of life decisions are difficult to make, even without the worry of those wishes being honored.

On Monday, the Senate State Affairs committee voted to pass a bill that would prevent physicians from denying life-prolonging fluids, food and medications to patients who have indicated they want to receive that treatment. The bill clarifies Idaho’s existing laws on end of life care, and specifies that patients are in charge of making those decisions.

Currently, a physician or nurse can deny those treatments for patients who are near death if they’ve made a good faith effort to find another doctor who is willing to treat the patient, said bill sponsor Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood.

That’s not good enough, Nuxoll said, citing court cases around the country where patients’ families and physicians differed on withholding treatment from patients who were close to death.

“If the patient wants to live, even if it’s for only another two weeks, then isn’t it his right to do so?” Nuxoll said.

The bill still allows patients and families to decline treatment.

Several people testified in favor of the bill, some with anecdotal stories about conflicts between physicians and families over what constitutes comfort care for dying patients.

Jason Herring of Right to Life Idaho said the bill isn’t an indictment against the state’s hospitals or doctors. Rather, it is a preventative bill, he said.

Ken McClure, speaking on behalf of the Idaho Medical Association, said the group was initially wary of the bill due to worries that it would restrict comfort care – such as administering morphine to relieve pain in a patient’s final days – because that could be seen as hastening a patient’s death. But after working with Nuxoll on amendments, the association supported the legislation.

“Our view is that this does put the patient in the driver’s seat,” McClure said.

The bill moves to a Senate reading.

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