Paging the Heartless Conservative


Disclaimer: The following blog is not in defense of current law. I fully understand the concept of disobedience to unjust laws. While reading, please keep in mind that good policy stems from laws that are applied equally and across the board. No law, positive or negative, should target a specific group of people.

Today there is a Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Meeting for House Bill 965, the 911 Medical Amnesty Bill. You can read the bill here, but essentially, HB 965 (which is what I like to call a “heart-string bill”…tug tug) would provide protection against arrest for drug or alcohol-related charges for people who call 911 on behalf of those facing a life-threatening overdose and would in turn allow expanded access to medication used to halt overdose reactions. Representative Sharon Cooper is the primary sponsor of this bill.  Currently, 16 other states (and D.C.) have similar laws and 13 other states are considering 911 Medical Amnesty laws.

I’ll be frank: I don’t like the bill. I don’t particularly care for laws that would help (or hurt) a certain group of people. We call these laws unjust. Similar to Haley’s Hope Act (the medical cannabis legislation), which privileges a very specific group of people with access to a different type of healthcare while excluding a plethora of other diseases, HB 965 limits legal ramifications for those who over-consume. Some may argue that this is because of use and/or possession, not the sale of such drugs. Regardless, this legislation specifically limits legal prosecution of some simply because they used too much of a certain illegal substance.

Proponents of the bill claim that people should not have to choose between death and legal repercussions for their loved ones in the chaos of an overdose. This argument can play for both teams. Certainly one would agree that survival is the first priority, but are we really trying to take the road less traveled to tell friends and family that you didn’t call 911 when you encountered someone who overdosed because you were afraid of the legal ramifications? I’ll also note that if, as conservatives, we value life as much as we claim we do, we shouldn’t use fear of legal ramifications as a driving force for decision making.
I could make the same argument for self-defense. “I was scared to shoot the man rummaging through my home, holding a knife, because it’s illegal to kill someone.” There could be legal repercussions from actions taken in those situations, yet, people still make the choice to defend themselves.
Another argument is that anyone who legally takes opioid medication (like Percocet, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Methadone, Lortab, etc) could benefit from this legislation as well. Unfortunately, this logic is flawed. If someone is prescribed a medication, the likelihood of failing to call 911 over legal ramifications is next to zero. In fact, a large portion of overdose cases from these types of medicines come from legal prescriptions and legal dosage levels.
(Also, point of personal privilege: The word “Amnesty” has horrific connotations due to immigration reform. One would think that conservatives could come up with a better word to use in the title of the bill..yes? no? maybe?)

Now, I understand that many times drug overdoses are directly correlated to addiction and disease, but the role of the legislature is not to enact laws that categorize to what groups of people the law is applicable. Addiction is a sickness and painful for everyone involved but we cannot discredit current laws on the books. We don’t need another feel-good, tug-at-your-heart-strings law. If the law is good for one, it should be good for all and should be applied equally and justly.  Sometimes good intentions make bad policy. This is one of those times.

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6 thoughts on “Paging the Heartless Conservative

  1. eburkedisciple

    Well said. The head, or logic and consistent principle, is a better guide for making good law than the heart is. We dare not ignore the heart but we give it priority at great risk.

    Reply
  2. R.Childs

    As a member of the law enforcement overdose prevention training community, I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment. This legislation, which is supported by conservatives and law enforcement in the Deep South and nationally, is a lifesaver. Thousands of Georgians lose their lives every year due to unintentional overdose. A simple 911 call could make the difference between a serious health episode and a fatal one. Current GA laws leave victims and bystanders (including parents who find they children) in danger of being arrested if they call 911 to report an overdose victim. It is thus not surprising that fear of police involvement is the most cited reason for not calling 911 during an overdose. As a result, fewer than 50% of overdoses result in a call for help.
    Calling 911 is often the first step in promptly treating an overdose. In response to this, 16 states (including Florida and North Carolina) and Washington DC have passed 911 Good Samaritan laws, which protect the caller and overdose victim from criminal prosecution for drug possession, and in many cases, offer additional protections. Passage of a similar law would allow Georgia to join a national effort to prevent deaths from unintentional overdose.
    My fellow law enforcement officers, law enforcement trainers and I support this bill because it reduces overdose deaths and give our children, friends and family a second chance on life. Law enforcement’s duty is to serve and protect the community and we cannot do so if our community is dying due to the fear of calling 911. Calling 911 shouldn’t be a crime.

    Reply
  3. Tessie Castillo

    This post makes little sense. Medical Amnesty bills are not made to benefit a specific group of people, they are made to prioritize the saving of a human life, which, as conservatives, we should value. Saying that we shouldn’t adopt these laws because they don’t benefit *everyone* is like saying we shouldn’t have laws protecting religion freedom because not everyone is religious. Or we shouldn’t restrict abortion because men can’t get pregnant. Simply put, this is a pro-life bill. And yes, as the author points out, ideally, people should call for help regardless of legal risks, but the fact of that matter is that legal repercussions are a consideration for many people. That’s just reality, and laws should reflect reality, not idealism.

    Reply
  4. DeRoinAE

    This post is indeed heartless. Regardless of why or how one experiences overdose, through legal or illegal use, everyone has the right to be saved. Even if folks “should” be less afraid of the law than their friend dying, we know this is not what happens in real life. HB 965 does not infringe on the rights of anyone, nor does it give overdose victims a free pass from consequences. The only thing it does is take away one of the many barriers to life-saving faced by people who use drugs. This bill is pro-life, and whining about not having the “ideal” world does nothing to protect Americans.

    Reply
  5. Leilani Attilio

    The law does not impact a specific group of individuals. Rather, it impacts a certain behavior like wearing a seat belt or texting while driving (all behaviors) and states have passed laws that state you must wear a seat belt or no texting while driving. 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws are smart, evidenced based, fiscally responsible and heaven forbid preserve the dignity of life. I also forget to mention that passing and implementing these kinds of laws is patriotic. Military veterans die at twice the rate than the general public from accidental drug overdoses. The VA system is highly bureaucratic and requires an act of Congress to get anything done. And let’s be honest, do we really want the federal government involved in state issues??? That’s why states should pass laws tailored to their needs. These laws are not “tough on crime” but better yet right on crime.

    Reply

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