N.D. ‘per­son­hood’ mea­sure raises con­cerns about broader health­care ef­fects

Modern Healthcare - - REGIONAL NEWS - —Paul Demko

A type of “per­son­hood” amend­ment North Dakotans will vote on Nov. 4 could have broad ram­i­fi­ca­tions for health­care in that state.

Vot­ers will de­cide whether to adopt a seem­ingly sim­ple amend­ment to the state’s con­sti­tu­tion. “The in­alien­able right to life of ev­ery hu­man be­ing at any stage of de­vel­op­ment must be rec­og­nized and pro­tected,” reads the bal­lot mea­sure.

Mea­sure 1 was orig­i­nally viewed as an anti-abor­tion mea­sure. But op­po­nents say it could in­sert the gov­ern­ment into cru­cial de­ci­sions about med­i­cal care be­cause its un­usu­ally broad lan­guage could ap­ply to end-of-life care and other types of treat­ments.

“Its ef­fect will be un­prece­dented, wide-rang­ing and un­pre­dictable,” wrote Steven Mor­ri­son, a con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North Dakota.

He and other crit­ics of the mea­sure warn that providers of in-vitro fer­til­iza­tion could be charged with mur­der, liv­ing wills and end-of-life di­rec­tives could be in­val­i­dated, and the gov­ern­ment could be forced to pro­vide life­sus­tain­ing treat­ment to ev­ery res­i­dent of the state no mat­ter their con­di­tion.

Sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing Catholic groups, say Mea­sure 1 is sim­ply an “iron dome” to pro­tect laws al­ready on the books.

A le­gal anal­y­sis drafted by sup­port­ers said that the state al­ready has laws reg­u­lat­ing end-of-life care and that those have been up­held as con­sti­tu­tional.

North Dakota’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture voted in 2013 to place Mea­sure 1 on the bal­lot. It was part of a num­ber of anti-abor­tion bills that were en­acted that year.

But a “fe­tal heart­beat” law, which could pro­hibit abor­tions as early as six weeks into a preg­nancy, was in­val­i­dated by a fed­eral judge.

Mea­sure 1 is sim­i­lar to “per­son­hood” amend­ments that have been con­sid­ered in other states. Those mea­sures gen­er­ally would ex­tend con­sti­tu­tional or statu­tory pro­tec­tions to life start­ing at the em­bry­onic stage.

Per­son­hood amend­ments have been re­jected by vot­ers in ev­ery state where they have been on the bal­lot, in­clud­ing Mis­sis­sippi.

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