An Arizona House panel has approved a bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to try to revive a fetus if it shows any signs of life.
The House Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted 6-3 on Wednesday to send the legislation to the full House. The Senate had already passed it on an 18-12 vote in February.
Supporters of Senate Bill 1367 say the legislation is necessary to ensure that babies born alive are given life-saving care, but opponents fear it will force doctors to perform sometimes painful and pointless procedures.
According to the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa, the bill would ensure doctors do everything possible to keep an infant alive if born after 20 weeks gestation, Phoenix’s CBS Channel 5 reported.
“There’s a child in front of us that’s alive, could you give the child some basic medical care?” Smith told the committee.
The bill outlines minimum care and reporting standards as well as sanctions and penalties for hospitals that do not comply.
Neo-natal doctors and the Arizona Medical Association testified Wednesday, arguing that the legislation would apply to cases involving wanted pregnancies that end tragically early, such as those that involve fatal birth defects.
In such cases, doctors said, parents should have the option to spend their final moments cradling their newborn child.
The station reported on emotional testimony from Anmarie Stone, who told lawmakers that when she was 22 weeks pregnant, she suddenly went into labor and doctors determined her only option was to deliver the baby. But if the baby survived, he would likely be deaf, blind and have severe cognitive issues, she was told. She and her husband elected to forgo invasive medical treatment and to spend their final moments holding their baby.
“You start doing medical intervention, it starts to seem cruel. Just do what you can to be kind and to let the parents move on,” Stone said.
Following Stone’s testimony, an expert told the committee that under a recent amendment to the bill, it would no longer apply to spontaneous early delivery. But medical professionals expressed concern that the legislation would apply in cases where a fetus has a fatal congenital defect and doctors induce labor early.
For babies delivered at 20 to 21 weeks gestation, doctors consider resuscitation futile, and the national standard of care is to provide “comfort measures,” according to a letter from Dr. Peter Stevenson. At 22 weeks, he said survival is approximately 11 percent. At 23 weeks, the survival rate is 40 percent.
Stevenson testified Wednesday that medical intervention on newborns delivered at 20 to 21 weeks would simply inflict pain and suffering fetuses that have no chance of survival. He argued that would violate a physician’s Hippocratic Oath.
Supporters of the bill argued that any newborn showing a heartbeat, breathing or voluntary movement warrants the highest degree of medical intervention.
The committee voted 6-3 to recommend passage, with all Republicans supporting the legislation and all Democrats opposed.
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