Defeating death panel rhetoric

Current Texas law empowers a so-called “ethics committee” comprised mostly of hospital staff to override your previously stated wishes in regard to your health care decisions.  Patient autonomy in Texas only applies when you refuse treatment and wish to speed your own death.  The decisions to withdraw and deny medical treatment are based on value judgments—quality of life judgments imposed upon the ailing and disabled about the value of their future Life with an illness, injury, or disability.  This practice is widely known as “Futile Care Theory” and is employed frequently at Texas hospitals when physicians and their administrative colleagues see your less-than-perfect Life as futile. 

A doctor may convene this committee if he deems that any further care for you would be “futile.”  If the committee agrees with the doctor’s subjective prognosis, you are given ten days to find an alternative facility and move yourself there, or all care will be withdrawn–including food and water.  Treatment can be withdrawn and denied regardless of your cognitive awareness, lack thereof, age, disability, ability to pay, and level of insurance.  No one is safe from the Texas Futile Care Law found in Chapter 166.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.

Since we have realized the injustice of Futile Care Theory and application thereof in Texas, Texas Right to Life has led efforts to reform this law in the Texas Legislature, yet a handful of physicians and their well-heeled lobbyists spew divisive rhetoric to defend this vile practice, leaving legislators confused about whose rights should prevail at the bedside.   

Myth #1: Any changes to the current law would result in unbridled patient autonomy.

Pro-death panel forces argue that the Advance Directives law protects doctors.  Any changes, they say, could force doctors to administer any treatment a patient demanded, even if the treatment caused more harm than good.  This wild patient autonomy would be in violation of physicians’ conscience rights. 

Reality #1:  In assisting over 100+ families through this futile care transfer process, Texas Right to Life has yet to encounter an overzealous provision of medical treatment.  The opposite occurs—a rationing of treatment and the withholding of treatment from those whose lives are rendered futile.

Myth #2: If the current law is changed, hospitals in Texas will fall into bankruptcy by treating patients indefinitely.

Reality #2: The goal of reform is to allow more time to transfer patients to a more appropriate care setting and to ensure that treatment continues until the patient is transferred elsewhere.  Eleven other states have passed similar legislation, called “treat-to-transfer” laws, and their hospital systems have not collapsed or been adversely affected.

This type of law represents an adequate balance between the patient’s right to Life and the physician’s right of conscience, while fostering cooperation between the patient and his family and the physician to find them an optimal care setting.

Myth #3:  Requiring reporting on usage of the ten-day process would compromise patient privacy and encourage more medical malpractice lawsuits.

Reality #3:  Hospital ethics committees are currently unregulated and are not overseen by any kind of governing body; they function in virtual secrecy and without fear of consequences for abuse.

Requiring reporting promotes transparency.  To assess the full nature of any problem, data and facts must be available.  There is no data on frequency of the application of the statute, diagnosis of patients affected, time needed to transfer patients, type of facility to which patients are transferred, longevity and prognosis after transfer, and other pieces of information that would contribute to common-sense reform.

Texas health agencies gather and publish statistics and trends on diabetes, influenza, cancer, obesity, allergies and allergens, therapies and remedies for such illnesses, and no cries of violation on patient privacy are associated with these types of data collections.  Additionally, both state and federal law prohibit any violations of patient information.