Bracing for Battle and Joining the Fray: State Legislative Campaigns Reach New Levels
An article in the summer 2013 edition of Today's Christian Doctor that outlines CMDA's efforts in state grassroots public policy campaigns.
by Mandi Mooney, Margie Shealy
Today's Christian Doctor - Summer 2013
Dr. Susan Giles had been waiting all day long. For more than 12 hours, she had been sitting in the back of the room waiting for her name to be called. She waited through countless testimonies from physicians, healthcare providers, politicians, patients, family members, activists and others. She waited while speakers advocated for their positions, the highly-contested debate lurching back and forth.
As the hours dragged on and others gave up hope of being able to testify and left, Susan continued to wait. She waited because the issue was simply too important to ignore. If she didn’t wait, who else would? At 11:30 p.m., nearly 13 hours after she arrived at the Connecticut State Capitol, her name was finally called and she walked to the front of the room to add her voice to the fight. It was her turn to join the front lines of the battle against physician-assisted suicide (PAS).
"To date I had not been politically active, but upon hearing of the bill’s stealth presentation in my own state, my conscience called me to action just days before the public hearing took place," said Dr. Giles, who is a CMDA member along with her husband Dr. David Giles. "The nearly 13 hours of public hearing prior to my speaking gave me perspective that the opposition has a very earnest, poignant and human face, yet their arguments are fear-driven and based on the quest for unmitigated self-determination. I was one of only a handful of physicians to testify that long day; in retrospect, I have a deeper understanding for the credibility our profession carries, our words have clout."
Susan was one of dozens who raised their voices in opposition against H.B. 6645, a state bill which would legalize PAS in Connecticut, allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs—without administering the drugs themselves—to patients in order for them to end their lives. If the bill were passed, Connecticut would become the third U.S. state to legalize PAS, behind Oregon and Washington. But this bill is far worse than others as it eliminates waiting periods, offers weaker protections for healthcare facilities and doesn’t require a second opinion, reporting, annual record audits or counseling.
"Regardless of our specialties, we physicians have vowed to ‘first do no harm.’ We are simply not in the business of killing our patients," she explained in her testimony. "Were we to assist in doing so—even in the rarest and most dire of circumstances—we would undermine the concept of trust, which is fundamental to the doctor-patient relationship."
For Dr. Giles, the waiting paid off. The Connecticut Public Health Committee set aside the bill, effectively killing the bill for this legislative session. It is a major victory in the battle against PAS, but the fight is far from over. The bill will most likely reappear on the docket next year (if not earlier), with its proponents better prepared to face off against pro-life supporters.
And it doesn’t stop there. Connecticut is just one of several states facing legislation campaigns for issues including PAS, abortion, fetal pain, right of conscience and others. On what seems to be a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis, CMDA is notified about new bills, new amendments, new movements in state legislations with potentially severe ramifications for Christians serving in healthcare. The campaigns face an aggressive barrage of developments much like a rollercoaster, jockeying from small victories to major defeats within days.
[Editor’s Note: Due to the quick-paced nature of state campaigns, some of the following information will likely change as Today’s Christian Doctor goes to print. For up to date information, please visit www.cmda.org/statepolicy.]
The fight against PAS in Montana was an ongoing struggle since 2008, with numerous twists and turns in amendments designed to confuse and halt any opposition. CMDA member Dr. David Hafer and his wife Bobbie spearheaded the campaign, spending countless hours and their own finances to fight legalization of PAS in their state. Recently, they met with the editorial board of Daily Inter Lake and spent more than an hour discussing the issue. "When we left the meeting, we knew we had done what the Lord had asked us to do, but we had no idea then how they would come down on the issue," said Bobbie. As a result, the newspaper released its support of H.B. 505 which would prohibit PAS. In addition, the Hafers oversaw CMDA’s involvement in participating in a full-page advertisement placed in major Montana newspapers which showed the signatures of 112 doctors against PAS. Unfortunately, the Montana Senate rejected the measure after it failed to get a majority of support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Two identical bills—A.B. 3328 and S.B. 2259—are making the rounds in the New Jersey legislature to legalize PAS. The legislature has the option to remove it from the ballot and vote on it, thereby becoming law without a state ballot. The bills could be voted on at almost any time, without much warning to mobilize efforts against them. A coalition, The Alliance Against Doctor Prescribed Suicide, is being created to proactively generate support amongst the opponents of the bill.
Although PAS has been a relatively quiet topic in New Hampshire in the last few years, it was recently brought to the foreground again when H.B. 403 was introduced earlier this year. The bill establishes a committee to study end-of-life decisions. A committee was established in March, with its first meeting expected to happen in the coming weeks. Based on its findings, the committee will present any recommendations to the state legislation. Until further developments occur, prayer is the most important asset.
In his State of the State speech in January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his intent to propose the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, legislation that would expand abortion rights. It would specifically guarantee women the right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. The proposal will also allow licensed healthcare practitioners, not just physicians, to perform abortions. A coalition of doctors, including CMDA member Dr. Ali Ko Tsai, held a press conference in March to oppose the act, focusing on how it might endanger the physical and emotional health of women. New York CMDA members were encouraged to sign a petition opposing the act, but further action will be delayed until the act is officially released in writing by the governor.
The issue of abortion is also making headlines in Texas as a result of S.B. 537. Co-authored by three senator physicians, the bill is aimed at raising the regulations governing clinics. It would require abortion facilities to meet the minimum standards of care that are required for outpatient surgical facilities. CMDA members stepped into the action by imploring the Texas Medical Association to not oppose the bill. As a result, the TMA did not take a position on the bill, a small victory toward the bill’s success.
Vermont has faced the battle against PAS before, but it has always been defeated due in large part to CMDA members’ involvement in the battle. This time around, confusion and dissatisfaction seem to be the name of the game. S. 77 proposes to legalize PAS, but after it made its way through several steps within the Vermont Senate, the bill was amended to the point of non-recognition. The amended version caused confusion on both sides of the argument, as it focuses on physician and family immunity without offering any safeguards. The bill is now in the hands of the House Committee on Human Services, and testimony was heard with a vote slated to be taken soon.
This is a war that CMDA is committed to fighting on your behalf, serving as a Christian voice against the cacophony of our opponents. But we need your help to continue making a difference and securing lifesaving victories. "More physicians willing to speak are clearly needed. Educate yourselves now on the arguments for and against such practices before a bill is quietly introduced in your state," said Dr. Giles.
These state campaigns are having success through the efforts of individuals just like Susan Giles and the Hafers. Individuals who realized that sitting back and ignoring the problems were no longer valid options. Individuals who decided they had to stand up and serve as a voice of Christian reason before it was too late. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Now is our chance, now is our time; let us take a stand and act—while we can.