By Jennifer Popik, JD, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics
On April 21, pro-life Governor Mary Fallin signed into law the Oklahoma Medical Treatment Laws Information Act. The measure had passed 88-1 in the House and 42-1 in the Senate.
Oklahoma has some of the most protective treatment laws in the nation. For example, it is the only state to ensure the provision of assisted feeding and hydration for those unable to speak for themselves, with comparatively narrow exceptions.
However, in the words of Tony Lauinger, State Chairman of Oklahomans for Life, “There is anecdotal evidence that some in the health-care community (including the medical, nursing, hospital, and nursing-home communities) are not aware of some of the provisions of Oklahoma law involving the provision of life-preserving treatment. The Medical Treatment Laws Information Act protects patients from a denial of life-preserving care caused by a health-care provider’s lack of awareness of Oklahoma’s protective laws.”
When the new law takes effect, patients and their families will be given a disclosure statement describing their rights to obtain life-saving medical treatment, food, and fluids under state law, and information on whom to contact to report violations of those rights. Each year, health care providers will need to certify they have reviewed a brochure explaining their rights and responsibilities regarding provision of life-preserving measures, and every two years will take an online continuing medical education course on them.
“Even very strong pro-life laws accomplish little if they are not enforced,” said Burke Balch, J.D., director of National Right to Life’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics. “As it so often does, Oklahoma has enacted a pioneering law, one other states would do well to consider emulating to better protect those who are most vulnerable to discriminatory denial of treatment, especially older people and people with disabilities.”