Lawmakers with the ‘party of life’ seem to want to sentence sick, injured Montanans to death

March 2, 2023 4:27 am

Blood donation illustration (MaxPixel | Public domain).

Montana, as much as I want to chalk this next statement up to hyperbole, it’s literal: Some members of the legislature want to kill you.

It has nothing to do with Sen. Jeremy Trebas’ terrible fixation with restoring smoking to restaurants and bars, which in and of itself, may be enough evidence to make the statement that legislators wish you were dead.

Instead, Reps. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City and Jodee Etchart, R-Billings, banded together to try to ban blood donations from anyone who has received a COVID-19 vaccination or had Long COVID.

Opponents who spoke against this bill testified that maybe more than 80% of blood donations would be stopped in a state that can barely keep up with demand. Montana often needs more blood because of the long distance to hospitals and our propensity for car accidents in this state with a lot of weather and miles and miles of road.

Thankfully, the measure died a predicted and predictable death when lawmakers learned that while science has helped to cure COVID-19, it has not developed a test to detect COVID vaccine in the blood or Long COVID.

In committee with majority Republican members, 19 members voted to table the bill, and just one voted against it.

However, the legislation is emblematic of what lawmaking in Montana has become: A political poker game of one-upsmanship that has serious ripple effects on those of us who would have to live under such misguided legislation.

Kmetz’s reasoning, if such a word could be used, is that just because those scientists and doctors said the vaccine is safe and effective, how do we know it’s true?

Using that same logic, how would we know that any drug or any medical treatment is safe or effective?

Kmetz, who also believes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has squandered U.S. money on Bitcoin, seemed content to see Montanans die because of a blood shortage rather than risk what’s in blood exposed to COVID or vaccines. It’s not theoretical or conceptual: If we cut our blood supply in Montana, people will die. Those same scientists and doctors – the ones he doesn’t trust – told him that.

Meanwhile, Etchart, who used her medical background in her campaign literature, represents a swath of Billings that includes overworked medical professionals and healthcare facilities that saw the dire consequences that came from overcrowding during the pandemic. Talk about slapping your constituents in the face, of which I am one.

You can throw around words like liberty, freedom and personal choice and have it apply to any legislative concept, but abusing these words shouldn’t give lawmakers cover to do whatever they want. Montana residents must start asking specifically how lawmakers’ bills actually solve problems or contribute to the cause of freedom or liberty, without robbing others?

It’s easy to talk about the freedom to have blood free from COVID vaccines, but what about the death sentences that same legislation imposes for those who would lose every freedom they have because of laws like this?

Even at their most pernicious, much of the legislation this session targets small, minority groups that can hardly muster enough numbers together to have a fighting chance. Think about the lawmakers’ yen for stigmatizing gay, lesbian or transgender folks – as if they needed any more bullying. Yet not content to devise what-if scenarios that will likely never happen, like strippers performing in grade school, lawmakers who are becoming more power-drunk on their own supermajority have begun trying to forbid something as benevolent as blood donation. And, it’s impossible to argue that without a supply of blood, people will die. That’s science so basic that not even a Daniel Emrich science bill could argue that fact.

This kind of garbage legislation takes us down an equally bizarre path: What happens when I don’t want blood from kooks and nuts? Or even worse, what about blood from gay people? Is that discrimination, or personal medical freedom?

Maybe instead of insulting those who would give such a life-saving gift, we should just say thank you.

I cannot imagine how hospitals and blood banks would determine who gets the blood and how much they may be limited to. For all those conservative lawmakers so worried about the intrusion of socialism or the government, I can’t think of something more centrally planned than blood rationing.

I can only hope this legislative idea has been thoroughly debunked, but like so many bills from abortion bans to tinkering with the Supreme Court, it may come back for an encore performance in 2025, once again risking lives.

For a party that talks about the sanctity of life continuously, these lawmakers sure have a funny way of promoting death.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.