Idaho Futile Care Bill Stalled in Legislature After Strong Opposition, Action Needed

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 17, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Idaho Futile Care Bill Stalled in Legislature After Strong Opposition, Action Needed

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 17
, 2009

Boise, ID ( — A dangerous futile care bill has been stalled in the Idaho state legislature, but one of the prime opponents says more action is still needed. The legislation is similar to a Texas law that has concerned pro-life advocates because it can easily lead to revoking lifesaving medical treatment and euthanasia.

Opponents of the measure say it could put elderly, disabled and terminally ill patients at risk.

The Idaho Senate has approved the bill, S 1114, and bioethics watchdog and attorney Wesley J. Smith is very concerned about it moving further.

Smith says the bill "is so bad it permits doctors who want to refuse wanted treatment to violate a patient’s written advance directive."

Local pro-life advocates in Idaho have been working to defeat the legislation. As a consequence, a hearing that had been set in the House Health and Welfare Committee has been postponed.

But Smith is asking pro-life and disability rights advocates there to do more.

"That’s good, but the bill–or at least the futile care part of it, since it is an omnibus involving many matters–isn’t dead yet," he said. "Now is the time to finish it off: All who oppose futile care in Idaho have to put their shoulders to the wheel and write their legislators opposing passage in its current form."

"More needs to be done to spread the word since the Idaho media has not yet leapt to cover the controversy," he added. "I think the futile care part of this bill can be killed with some more effort. That would be good for medicine, for vulnerable patients, and for the people of Idaho."

The bill essentially gives the family members of a patient who can’t make his or her own medical decisions just 15 days to find a new health facility that will provide appropriate care when the current facility refuses to provide needed medical treatment.

With doctors increasingly giving up on patients they consider too far gone, that presents a host of problems for family to make sure their loved ones receive care before a feeding tube is removed or a ventilator shut off.

Smith says the bill is plagued with undefined terms that make the process even more difficult.

"So what precisely is care deemed medically futile or inappropriate? The term isn’t defined precisely, meaning it is what the doctors or ethics committees say it is," he says.

The bill authorizes guardians to refuse or withhold life-sustaining treatment if "the respondent is in a persistent vegetative state, the provision of such treatment would merely prolong dying, or the provision of such treatment would be virtually futile in terms of the survival of the respondent, and the treatment itself under such circumstances would be inhumane."

Related web sites:
Idaho Legislature –
Idaho Right to Life –

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