Initiative would rob families of precious moments during unimaginable times of pain

October 11, 2022 4:13 am

Photo illustration by PxHere (Creative Commons)

As a pediatric hospice and palliative medicine physician for many years, I can speak directly to the unfathomable harm that a ballot initiative called LR-131 would cause. Titled the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” the initiative is an extreme, unnecessary and cruel limitation of family decision-making that you’ll see on the ballot this November. 

Although LR-131 purports to be about protecting infants, it requires health care providers to perform invasive and painful medical procedures to preserve the life of an infant … even if that infant was born too early to have any chance at survival or has a condition that limits survival to mere minutes or hours. In those situations, comforting the infant and allowing families the time and space to say goodbye is an option that should always be offered. If LR-131 passes, that option will be taken away and families will be required to surrender their last moments with their child to the dictates of the state and the futile interventions of medical personnel.

LR-131 is unnecessary to “protect” infants. Both a federal and a state law already exist to ensure that any infant who is “viable,” meaning “has a chance at survival,” will receive the necessary medical treatment — which makes sense. The first is the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (BAIPA) passed federally with bipartisan support in the House and unanimous support in the Senate, then signed by President George W. Bush on Aug. 5, 2002.  The second is the Montana Abortion Control Act, which also provides any infant who is viable with legal protection. 

Thus, any infant with the potential to survive is already protected by law and every physician’s oath to “first do no harm.”  I would argue that LR-131 mandates that physicians and other health care professionals actually “do harm” to parents and infants who would want to spend precious last minutes together. To deprive them, and their infant, of this irreplaceable time is not protection. It’s torture.

LR-131 threatens to rob parents and infants of the opportunity to comfort one another, practice the rituals of their faith, and create the memories that will sustain them through their grief.  As a pediatric hospice and palliative physician, I’ve shared these truly holy times with parents, families and their infants.  Remembering them, I’m devastated to think that politicians would interfere with the deeply personal medical and religious decisions heart-broken parents must make, with the support of their physicians and pastors.  

LR-131 doesn’t stop the government overreach there. Physicians who compassionately honor a family and infant’s needs by not subjecting the infant to futile and painful care would face severe penalties, including being labeled as felons and facing up to $50,000 in fines and 20 years in prison. I hope this offends you in the way it offends me and my colleagues in medicine.

I wish infants were never born too early or too medically compromised to survive.  But, sometimes they are. Please don’t allow politicians to intrude into these incredibly difficult times for families and rob them of the only warmth they’ll ever have with their infant. Instead of accommodating parents’ wishes to cuddle, kiss, sing, take pictures, bathe or baptize their infant — to celebrate this life, however brief – LR-131 requires physicians to take the infant from the parents’ arms and provide measures that have no hope of succeeding. 

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