NRLC director of medical ethics testifies against Nebraska POLST

Editor’s note. This story appears in the March digital edition of National Right to Life News. The entire 39-page issue can be read at www.nrlc.org/uploads/NRLNews/NRLNewsMarch2015.pdf

Burke Balch, J.D.

Burke Balch, J.D.

Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics Director Burke Balch, J.D., testified before the Nebraska Legislature’s Health & Human Services Committee on February 18th in opposition to creating a standard state  medical orders form to govern provision or denial of life-saving treatment.

Balch worked with Nebraska Right to Life, NRLC’s state affiliate, to provide input on LB 490, Providers Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which was introduced this session by state Senator Dan Watermeier.

Nebraska Right to Life and NRLC took an official position of opposing LB 490 because of biased language which Balch said would encourage vulnerable patients, especially people with disabilities and older people to choose less treatment over more treatment.

“The POLST form proposed by LB 490 is biased against life-preserving measures, omits important treatments from options that may be chosen and suffers from ambiguity, inaccuracy and inadequacy in important respects,” Balch said in testifying before the committee. “The bill that incorporates it has a shockingly sweeping provider immunity section that robs patients and their families of even minimal protections and legal recourse.”

Balch asked the Committee to put aside LB 490 in favor of a total re-write, using the draft POLST form he had provided.  Balch added

“I urge that there be full, frank and thoughtful consultations among not just health care providers but also advocacy organizations such as disability rights and older people’s groups as well as Nebraska Right to Life to agree upon a bill that genuinely protects patients, rather than them being pushed into accepting premature death in the service of cost-cutting motivations or a ‘quality of life’ ideology.”

Nebraska Right to Life hosted a press conference featuring Balch at the State Capitol prior to the hearing. Balch also did in-person radio interview while in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“It is critically important to educate Nebraskans and their legislators on navigating the nuances of POLST legislation which must be carefully drafted to provide truly informed consent, and not ‘nudge’ people toward premature death as a means of limiting health care spending,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, Nebraska Right to Life executive director.