Idaho settles lawsuit on living wills for pregnant people

Feb 5, 2022, 11:46 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:40 pm
FILE: Image of a pregnant woman. (Deseret News, Sara Reid)...
FILE: Image of a pregnant woman. (Deseret News, Sara Reid)
(Deseret News, Sara Reid)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho has agreed to change its living will template so that pregnant people will not be kept on life support against their wishes.

The move is part of a legal settlement reached this week with four women who said the state’s law governing advance health care directives discriminates based on gender and subjects pregnant people to different medical treatment than others.

The women, represented by legal groups including the women’s rights organization Legal Voice and the end-of-life patient rights organization Compassion & Choices, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2018 targeting the state’s Medical Consent and Natural Death Act. The act says competent people have a fundamental right to control decisions on their medical care, including when to have life-saving care withdrawn. But it also included a template living will that said the directive would have no force during the course of a pregnancy.

State officials interpreted the rule to mean pregnant people must receive life-saving treatment regardless of their living wills, and the template with the pregnancy exclusion was promoted on a state website.

At least 47 states have adopted laws allowing living wills or advance medical directives, and 11 of them placed restrictions on advance directives for pregnant individuals. Besides Idaho, the others are Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, according to Legal Voice.

Under the settlement, Idaho officials admit no wrongdoing but must make sure advance directives are followed regardless of whether the patient is pregnant. The state will create a new living will template, and notify everyone who has already filed a living will with the state’s advance directive registry of the court’s decision.

One of the women who brought the lawsuit, Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, said the settlement was a welcome relief. She was pregnant when the case was first filed, and is now pregnant with her second child.

“My family and I can rest assured my rights and choices will be honored as we anticipate our family growing later this year,” Gaona-Lincoln said in a statement. “There is enough for expecting parents in Idaho to worry about; due to the previous pregnancy exclusion, I wasn’t granted that peace of mind with our first child.”

The Idaho Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the settlement.

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Idaho settles lawsuit on living wills for pregnant people