PROVIDENCE — The House Judiciary Committee heard nearly four hours of testimony last Thursday on four pro-life bills, along with a bill aiming to legalize assisted suicide in Rhode Island.
The pro-life bills seek to protect both unborn children in the womb, as well as infants who are born alive, at any stage of development.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H7189), sponsored by Representatives David Place, Michael Chippendale, Sherry Roberts, Robert Quattrocchi, Justin Price, and Camille Vella-Wilkinson would prohibit abortion once a preborn child is known to be physiologically capable of feeling pain, currently set at 20 weeks post-fertilization.
The Born Alive Infant Protection Act (H7307 and H7405), sponsored by Representatives Ramon Perez, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Samuel Azzinaro, Grace Diaz, Robert Quattrocchi, Sherry Roberts, Raymond Hull, and Arthur Corvese would ensure that infants who are born alive, at any stage of development, are provided with medically appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment and are entitled to the full protections of the law.
The Heartbeat Resolution bill (H7458), sponsored by Representative James McLaughlin, seeks to recognize that the existence of a fetal heartbeat or flutter, at 18 to 24 days post-fertilization, is evidence of the existence of human life and that advancements in prenatal care are dramatically improving survival rates for babies born preterm.
H7306, sponsored by Representatives Perez, Vella-Wilkinson, Chippendale, Azzinaro, Diaz, Quattrocchi, Roberts, Hull, and Corvese, concerns the care of babies born preterm. The bill would criminalize the knowing and intentional failure of a physician, nurse or other licensed medical person to provide reasonable medical care and treatment to an infant born alive.
Rep. Perez, in introducing the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, of which he is the principal sponsor, delivered an impassioned story of how his wife steadfastly chose to deliver her baby when her doctor’s prognosis for their child’s survival was very much in doubt.
“My wife’s choice was to have the baby,” he said.
In the birthing room, although their child was alive when born, the doctors did not offer medical care to the newborn as they did not expect the child to live.
“When my wife was having a risk of losing her baby there was no help from the doctor as the baby was dying,” he said.
“I just want to force the doctor to do something. I just want to prevent what happened to me to from happening to someone else,” he said, in the hope that his bill would be passed.
In promoting the passage of his Heartbeat Resolution bill, Rep. McLauglin said that the bill would identify the unborn as human beings, not embryos. He spoke of how a heartbeat can be detected in an unborn child as early as three weeks after conception.
“A heartbeat starts at 21-23 days, and when that baby’s heart starts beating it is a living, viable human being,” McLaughlin said.
Dr. Doreen Ciancaglini, a pediatrician in North Providence in practice for 26 years, encouraged passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
“The development of a human being is not a rigid sequence. It is a very detailed and complex development,” she said, noting how a fetus senses pressure and is able to kick, turn, move and suck their thumbs.
“Let’s do the right thing medically as well as ethically,” she said.
Diane Santanello, one of the final members of the public to testify, expressed her support for the pro-life bills, and her opposition to the Assisted Suicide bill.
“If abortion is healthcare it’s very bad healthcare because someone dies in every abortion,” she said.
“And for people who want to die with dignity, we have hospice available.”
The Assisted Suicide bill (H6600) sponsored by Representatives Edith Ajello, Arthur Handy, Susan Donovan, June Speakman, Rebecca Kislak, Liana Cassar, Jason Knight, Kathleen Fogarty, Lauren Carson and Carol Hagan McEntee seeks to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Rhode Island.
Rep. Ajello, principal sponsor of the physician-assisted suicide legislation — known as the Lila Manfield Compassionate Care Act — said she has repeatedly introduced the Assisted Suicide Bill since 2015, after hearing a doctor from the Pacific Northwest speak in favor of the practice in that part of the country.
Lisa Church, of Smithfield, a member of the No Suicide RI Coalition, said to legalize the practice here would be very dangerous.
“Assisted suicide is bad medicine and bad public policy,” she said.
“This bill in no way prevents subtle persuasion on vulnerable victims to request assisted suicide. It doesn’t require a person to sign in the presence of a doctor.”
Church added that the bill doesn’t protect a severely depressed or mentally ill person from requesting assisted suicide as there’s no need for them to consult their personal care physician.
Ajello countered that in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, only 383 people have used or requested this option out of the state’s current population of 4.2 million.
“If only one vulnerable person is coerced into taking their life it’s one person too many,” Church responded.
The committee voted to hold all bills for further study.
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