Sen. Fred Dyson testified that his strong respect for life prompted his effort to rewrite part of the state's patients' rights law. Senate Bill 172 would not restrict a patient's right to refuse treatment to prolong life. But in cases where the patient's or a spouse or other family member's demands for treatment conflicted with a doctor's judgment or ethical standards, cardio pulomonary resuscitation might be required.
Medical professionals who testified were not in favor of the bill, pointing out that CPR is not a gentle procedure, especially for older terminal patients and that it may prolong life at a cost of much greater pain and misery for the patient.
That runs counter to the medical maxim, "First do no harm." Respect for life could make dying far more painful than it needs to be. Many who have been with a dying loved one have experienced that point where the patient waves off any more help, when they realize the fight for life is over. Hence the mercy in giving patients the right to refuse treatment, either at the time or in advance.
On the other side of that equation is testimony by one widow who said both she and her husband wanted life-sustaining treatment, no matter the pain, until the end, because of their faith -- faith that is often most precious at such times. What should doctors, who might argue that CPR in such cases could break ribs, cause more suffering or even hasten death, do in such cases? How would they reconcile the amended law and their own code?
The patients' rights law is good in letting patients decide when to simply let nature take its course. In one sense Dyson's bill keeps that decision with the patient and spouse or other surrogate. But the bill creates a dilemma for doctors -- who already, with families, face hard calls about how far to go in prolonging a life.
There is no template answer for end of life decisions. In most cases, those final decisions are best made by patients and families. But in these most personal times, they're not the only ones involved. Lawmakers need to think this one over for awhile.
BOTTOM LINE: Patients' rights rewrite may solve one problem, create more.