In the last few sessions of the Idaho legislature more than 800 bills have been introduced each year. Over 600 get enacted into law. And we consider ourselves a conservative state? Maybe we should be doing less. I will now discuss a bill that never should have happened. It didn’t need to. 

One of the things that inspired me to run for this office last year was some of the bills I saw passed that I thought were harmful. It’s really something when you can deal directly with something that has inspired you. So this job is an inspiration. 

I refer you to Senate Bill 1353, the Health Care Provider Freedom of Conscience Act. It’s short. Please read it. Thus you will know what our laws are made of. 

The bill is trying to keep health care professionals from having to do things they are ethically opposed to doing. Or so it says. 

When I first heard of this bill last winter I was offended, then inspired. Now that I am elected I wondered what to do. Before I decided to do anything I wanted to speak with the author and understand his intent. He sat down with me in the Senate chamber one day after adjournment. I told him I was concerned the bill would promote unprofessional behavior. He assured me he was only trying to protect professionals in difficult ethical situations. I have always thought the reconciliation of ones values with those one cared for was a supreme act of compassion. I didn’t need the protection of legislation in this difficult but important process.

I have rarely had to refuse to provide the care requested by a patient because of my own ethics. If I had to refuse I always explained my position and offered to find a different physician for the patient.  My goal has always been to provide appropriate, compassionate care. Sometimes I cannot give the patient what they ask for. But ones professional demands cannot be dismissed, nor should the needs of the patient. 

So the words and the intent of the bill were confusing to me. And I was only slightly reassured by the author’s words. 

In November of 2010 a Nurse Practitioner in Nampa called a pharmacist and prescribed Methergine. This is a drug used to stop uterine bleeding after childbirth or an abortion. The pharmacist asked the prescriber if the patient had had an abortion, and then hung up on the nurse. 

The nurse who worked for Planned Parenthood complained to the Board of Pharmacy. The Board investigated and determined that no sanctions were in order. Idaho, like 45 other states in our Union, has no statutory requirement for a pharmacist to fill a prescription. Pharmacists do so at their discretion. I studied the Idaho Code one afternoon and find I agree. 

So why did we need a Freedom of Conscience Act for pharmacists? They didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to before the law was passed. And physicians and nurses had a law already protecting them. 

When I spoke with the author of the bill I told him of my worries about the consequences of such a bill: that we, a mixture of people who have widely varied beliefs and values, might stop treating each other with respect. I believe the vague and unclear intent of this bill has indeed promoted such behavior. We should do better. Or do nothing.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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