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Senator Barto debunks the claims against Senate Bill 1439, which allows doctors to follow their cons

The purpose and potential impact of Senate Bill 1439, relating to Arizonans’ end-of-life wishes, has been misconstrued. And rather than clarifying the bill, two recent Arizona Republic editorials have added to the confusion. Readers deserve clarification. Laws would be meaningless if there weren't penalties for breaking them. What good is a speed limit if there is not a penalty for exceeding it? What good are sexual harassment laws if nothing were to happen when they are violated?

For 25 years, Arizona law has allowed for health-care providers to practice their rights of conscience. Doctors currently may, according to ARS 36-3205(C)(1), refuse to participate in certain procedures that compromise their conscience beliefs. Patients’ wishes have been carried out without losing autonomy, as these wishes are passed on to a health provider who does not object to the patients request.

Yet employers may terminate these conscience objectors without any recourse. In essence, the speed limit exists, but there is no penalty for exceeding it. SB 1439 does not prevent patients from receiving their preferred end of life care; it simply protects health providers who enact the provisions of Arizona law.

SB 1439 creates protection and legal recourse from entities that discriminate against health providers who are exercising their existing legal right to abstain from certain medical procedure. For example, SB 1439 would protect a doctor from work-related penalties or from being fired by following their rights of conscience. This is the completion of legislation that was enacted 25 years ago.

Don't buy the criticism

The two editorial criticisms require responses as well.

Bob Robb seems both for and against citizens’ rights of conscience, while also claiming employees shouldn’t have conscience rights in an employment context. Which is it? Shouldn't a law, ensuring Americans’ longstanding rights of conscience are honored, be used in support for, rather than undermine, the assertion that, “in a rightly ordered universe, grounded in freedom and tolerance, this [government intervention] wouldn’t be an issue."

We don’t live “in a rightly ordered universe,” and employers don’t always honor their fellow citizens’ basic rights to act according to their faith and conscience, so this law ensures that protection. Providing citizens fundamental conscience protections in law isn’t overzealous social-conservatism at work, but actually a necessary tool for tolerance in an imperfect society.

Linda Valdez’s editorial, “Wrong end-of-life bill went to Ducey’s desk,” perpetuates the myth that when SB 1439 becomes law, patients’ rights and dignity would be threatened. Valdez furthers this myth by strongly implying that an unrelated bill will not move forward. Ms. Valdez believes that SB 2076, ensuring important access to a patient’s advanced directive information if he or she is incapacitated, should be the bill supported by the governor, instead of SB 1439. Both bills merit support. In fact, HB 2076 is moving through the legislative process just fine, having passed the House and the Senate health committees unanimously on March 22. The bottom line is SB 1439 has never threatened patients’ end-of-life wishes. Now that the bill is signed, providers will have legal protection from discrimination if they choose to opt-out. Thank you, Governor Ducey, for wading through the myths and misinformation and signing SB 1439 into law.

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