Government

Bill gives parents, not courts, say on life support

Proposal doesn't yet tell what to do if parents differ on care

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A three-member House Judiciary panel has signed off on a proposal to create the right in Iowa law for a “parent to parent,” but agreed it needs to be tweaked to address situations in which parents disagree about the withdrawal of life support for their children.

“This may seem like it’s out of the realm of possibility in Iowa, but very little is, especially as life-sustaining treatments become more and more available,” said Pete McRoberts, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

The ACLU joined The Family Leader in support of House File 223, which currently says a court cannot order the withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures from a minor child over the objections of the parents. The exception would be if there is conclusive medical evidence that the child has died and any electronic brain, heart or respiratory monitoring activity to the contrary is what bill calls a “false artifact.”

By passing HF 223, McRoberts said Monday, “we’re making sure that in Iowa we have a shot as people and as legislators to beef up the protections for parents to choose how to parent their kids.”

The poster boy for the legislation was Alfie Evans, a British 23-month-old with a degenerative brain condition who died in April 2018 after a court ordered — over the objections of his parents — that life support be withdrawn, according to Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, a lawyer who sponsored HF 223.

McRoberts and Chaney Yeast, a lobbyist for Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, which also supported the bill, encouraged lawmakers to add language addressing situations when parents with joint custody disagree about the best course of action.

“We’ve been in those situations when over months we have tried to work with those parents to find a resolution without going to court,” she said.

During that time, Yeast said, medical procedures including surgeries were performed.

“It’s not just a ventilator. It’s active treatment that one parent is authorizing that we know is medically futile,” she said.

Providers do have a right to not comply with some treatment requests by parents if it is against their conscience and “if they believe they are doing harm to the child,” said Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference, which is undecided on the bill.

Lutheran Social Services is backing HF 223, as is Iowa Right to Life.

The bill would not protect parents “who have deliberately tried to sustain life of essentially clinically dead children by machine to prevent themselves from being sued for parental neglect,” Jacobsen said.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, agreed that decisions on life-sustaining measures are a parental right.

“I absolutely do. Certainly, parents should have the right to make these decisions,” she said.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, agreed that the law is necessary “so Iowa is not the example going forward of something going wrong and a child is taken off life support against their parents’ wishes.”

They were joined by Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, in moving the bill to the full Judiciary Committee.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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