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Suit Filed Against ID Law Voiding Pregnant Women's Living Wills

An exclusion for pregnant women was included in a 2005 Idaho law allowing people to write living wills. (adistar/Twenty20)
An exclusion for pregnant women was included in a 2005 Idaho law allowing people to write living wills. (adistar/Twenty20)
June 4, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – A lawsuit has been filed over an Idaho law that voids women's living wills if they become pregnant.

Legal Voice and the end-of-life care advocacy group Compassion and Choices filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of four women, saying the law is unconstitutional for violating due-process and equal protection clauses.

Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln is a plaintiff in the case and also a behavioral therapist, pregnant with her first child. She says it's problematic that the state could override her living will.

"I want to be able to have a say over what happens to my health and to my care and whatever I have expressed to be honored and respected,” she states. “So that became absolutely on the forefront of why I had to take the initiative with this case."

The pregnancy exclusion is part of the 2005 Medical Consent and Natural Death Act, which allows Idahoans to make decisions to have "life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn." It allows for advanced directives on end-of-life care.

The Idaho attorney general and secretary of state are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Ten states have laws invalidating advanced directives for people who are pregnant.

Sara Ainsworth, advocacy director at Legal Voice, says pregnant women are entitled to make decisions like anyone else.

"Women don't lose their constitutional rights when they're pregnant,” she insists. “They retain the same legal autonomy and decision making power that all patients have, and they have the right to decide whether their bodies would be sustained with life-sustaining treatment or what exact kind of treatment they'd want."

There is no medical evidence that a woman who is brain dead can be kept alive to bring her pregnancy to term.

A tragic case from 2014 highlights this. The state of Texas kept a pregnant woman who was brain dead on a ventilator, saying it was following state law. But a judge ultimately sided with her family's wishes to end life-sustaining treatment.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID