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Idaho Lawmakers Threaten Patient Care with Proposed ‘Thought Crime’

PORTLAND, OR –Compassion & Choices (C&C) today expressed grave concern about an Idaho bill, S1070. As
written, the bill threatens doctors with criminal prosecution based on the “intention” behind end-of-life pain relief and threatens patients with under treatment of end-of-life suffering. S1070, which passed the Idaho Senate, makes any “health care professional who administers, prescribes or dispenses medications or procedures to relieve another person’s pain or discomfort,” guilty of a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, if “. . . such medications or procedures are knowingly and intentionally administered, prescribed or dispensed to cause death.”

“Such vague statutory language puts health care professionals at legal risk and jeopardizes patient care.” said Barbara Coombs Lee, President of C&C. “Patients will not get the pain treatment they need if doctors and nurses are looking over their shoulder, wondering who will question their ‘intention’.”

“In medieval times, religious doctrine dictated whether a physician’s act was sinful, based on their intention,” said Coombs Lee.”The Idaho lawmakers are putting this ancient religious doctrine into law and establishing a thought crime at the expense of good patient care.”

Another troubling provision of S1070 authorizes family members, health care providers and others to obtain an injunction against a doctor “who is reasonably believed to be about to violate” the law.

Tom Archie, MD, a practitioner of family medicine in Hailey, ID, said, “Sanctioning an army of vigilantes to second-guess a physician’s medical judgment will have a chilling effect on the palliative care decisions carefully worked out among doctors, patients and their loved ones. Palliative care involves relieving pain, anxiety and fear, and enabling conscious and loving communication within families. Patients with terminal illnesses deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing their physicians will do everything possible to help relieve their suffering.”

“It is appalling that patients suffering from cancer or other terminal diseases would have their medical care options restricted because lawmakers question their doctors’ motives,” said Coombs Lee. “This is an attempt to put the religious views of politicians above the interests of the patient.”