Idaho Lawmakers Vote Against Protecting Patients' Legal Rights

Mar 01, 2011, 16:25 ET from AARP Idaho

House State Affairs Moves Forward Ill-conceived Bill Attempting to Fix Law Allowing Health Care Prof. to Refuse Advance Medical Directives

BOISE, Idaho, March 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Idahoans worried about a new state law leaving their end-of-life legal rights in limbo didn't get any consolation today.  In a so-called attempt to fix Idaho's new "conscience" law, which allows all health care professionals to refuse to honor advance medical directives, members of the House State Affairs Committee voted forward a bill that may only make matters worse.  AARP stood in strong opposition to the passage of House Bill 187.  

"The conscience law as currently written erodes the legal rights of Idahoans as expressed in their advanced medical directives; the bill moved forward today does nothing to stop that," said Jim Wordelman, State Director for AARP in Idaho. "Those members of the House State Affairs Committee who voted in favor of this ill-conceived bill seem content to put someone else's conscience before the legal rights of their constituents."

House Bill 187 leaves in place the ability of all health care professionals in Idaho to refuse living wills and advance directives that violate their "conscience" – posing a direct threat to the legal documents which express what type of care patients want to receive at the end of their life.  All AARP-backed bills to fix the issue have been stalled in the House State Affairs Committee.  AARP has called on lawmakers to fix the problematic law since its passage last year.

"Our state lawmakers had plenty of time and options to get this one right and fix the conscience law to protect their constituents' legal rights – but today they got it wrong," added Wordelman.  "Nearly 90% of AARP members in Idaho said they had little to no confidence in their lawmakers to tackle the issues they cared most about, and today we're seeing why that number is so high."

The bill now moves to the full House for a vote, where AARP will make it the first "accountability" vote of the 2011 legislative session, meaning the Association will work to publicize the roll call and inform its members how their elected officials voted on the issue.

AARP also has a statewide "Fix It" campaign underway, aimed at engaging its members and the public in the debate, establishing the Patients' Rights Hotline (1-800-232-0581), connecting people to their legislators on the issue, implementing a paid media campaign hitting the airwaves, print and web, educating the public about the law and its impact, and urging lawmakers to tackle it.

Idaho's "conscience" law allows all health care professionals in the state to refuse to honor living wills or advance directives – legal documents often registered with the Idaho Secretary of State's Office.  AARP says the law is government overreach, and a clear violation of patients' legal end-of-life rights.

Fixing the law is a priority issue for AARP Idaho. During election season members rated the issue as one of the most important for those they elect to tackle, second only to the state budget.  

AARP is Idaho's largest membership organization with 180,000 members.

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