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Legislative Referendum 131 is a humanity issue

by Kena Lackman
| October 13, 2022 12:00 AM

Legislative Referendum 131 is not an abortion issue. This is a humanity issue.

I am a family medicine doctor from a rural community in eastern Montana. From the time I started my undergraduate degree in pre-medicine, I have been committed to returning to practice full-scope family medicine in a rural and underserved community. Delivering babies has been a primary goal of mine. I love watching families grow and helping mothers bring new life into this world.

The majority of the time, the labor and delivery room is a vibrant and happy place, but sadly, this is not always the case.

Babies die. Sorry to be blunt, but it is true. Medicine has its limitations. There are medical conditions that cannot be prevented and cannot be treated with even the most advanced medical knowledge and resources. During these difficult times, parents and families deserve the right to make the best decision possible for their newborn.

When a mother’s body decides to go into early labor, modern medicines cannot always stop the process. Therefore, babies are born too early, before their lungs develop enough to provide oxygen to their body.

When a baby’s brain or heart does not form correctly, even the best NICU team cannot keep the baby alive on machines and tubes.

When a mother’s water breaks at 4 months of pregnancy, the baby’s lungs will not form and the baby might have a heartbeat at the time of delivery but will not be able to breath even with a breathing tube.

In all of the above situations, the baby may be born alive despite their severe anatomical defects – with a heartbeat, breathing or movement. That doesn’t mean that providing every medical intervention possible is necessarily the right thing.

These are common situations where a family, under the private guidance of its trusted medical team, may decide to provide comfort-focused-care after the baby is born. Comfort care is just as it sounds – the healthcare team focuses on giving the parents the maximum amount of time with their cherished newborn baby, by immediately placing the infant in the loving arms of its mother after birth.

I personally have been involved in many situations like the examples above. I love babies. I love families. I love being a doctor. I am not a murderer, nor a criminal. But LR-131 would make me one.

LR-131 is a bill that if passed, would mandate healthcare workers to perform futile and possibly harmful medical interventions on any newborn with a heartbeat, or that is breathing or moving:

interventions like chest compressions (CPR), intravenous (IV) medicines, placing a breathing tube (intubation), being placed on life support machines, and taking the baby away from the parents to the newborn resuscitation area. If healthcare workers fail to comply, they would face up to $50,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison. They will be faced with “homicide” charges.

Enacting a law that requires resuscitation measures to be performed in all situations when a newborn has a heartbeat is analogous to requiring all nursing homes to perform CPR when an elderly resident dies. It takes away the individual’s autonomy over the situation.

LR-131 robs mothers of precious minutes with their dying babies. It terrorizes fathers as they watch their exhausted partners longing to hug their newborns. It breaks the hearts of the nurses who helped their patients labor, because they know the torture the family will witness. It haunts the respiratory therapists who help intubate a suffering premature infant. It criminalizes the doctors who took an oath to do no harm.

LR-131 is a bill proposed to take a political stance and for our non-medical legislators to further polarize political parties. The writers of this legislation want you to believe that there is a dark room in the back of an abortion clinic where doctors and nurses allow healthy babies to die in the corner. These rooms do not exist.

The bill was written to get average non-medical Montanans to vote political lines and support a bill they view as “pro-life.” LR-131 is not pro-life: it is quite the opposite. It has significant ability to hurt a lot of Montana families, and babies, and to make medical providers afraid to practice compassionate and humane medicine. Please, I am begging you, vote “NO” for LR-131.

Dr. Kena Lackman

Family Medicine Physician

Polson

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