JUNEAU — Lawmakers on Monday debated whether language in the state’s “do-not-resuscitate” law includes the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and if not, whether that should be spelled out more clearly.
Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, was approached last year by a constituent with what she described as a troublesome claim.
Margery Mullins said her husband, Mervin, was told by a doctor at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage that he could not supersede a different doctor’s decision to place him under orders to not be revived using CPR. Hospital officials dispute details of the case.
At the time, Mullins was at the hospital often for a variety of appointments related to his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, and his story led Dyson to write SB172, which the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed Monday.
Margery Mullins said the recovery of other family members after doctors handed down grave diagnoses, along with faith in God, were the reasons her husband fought to extend his life. He died last month in Providence, and the issue of CPR did not come into play.
“The violations against my husband and I were many, grievous and long,” she said. “During visits (to Providence) doctors and hospital staff deluged us, asking if we would sign do-not-resuscitate orders.”
Dyson said issues of life-preserving treatment like machines that preserve breathing and heart function are well-described in current law. He believes a right to request CPR also exists, but he thinks a clarification of the language would be helpful to insure that patients’ wishes are the prime concern.
“We started working on this to reorder the law so it makes more sense, and that’s what we think this does,” Dyson said of his bill.
An array of legislators and medical professionals disagreed.
“The aspect that troubles me the most about the bill is that a physician could find themselves required to provide care they don’t feel is proper,” said Judiciary Chair Hollis French. He said it would be like asking a doctor to prescribe harmful medication or to perform a procedure like acupuncture simply because of a patient request.
Dr. Stephen Rust, who practices geriatric and internal medicine at Providence, told the committee the bill misses the mark.
“I speak for the entire medical community when I say we support an individual’s right to control their body and what’s done to them,” Rust said. “But it’s ludicrous to say that (a doctor) can’t decline (to perform CPR) for purposes of conscience or medical opinion.”
Rust said a variety of physicians are usually involved in end-of-life care, and CPR is performed whenever a single physician believes it will make a difference.
Dyson said after the hearing that he is still considering whether to move ahead with the current wording of the bill or to rework it to address concerns raised by critics.
The committee held the bill pending further discussion.