Family of Chris Dunn appeals court’s decision, challenges anti-Life Texas 10-Day Rule

The family of the late Chris Dunn, a victim of the Texas 10-Day Rule, will appeal a previous court decision on Tuesday in order to continue their legal challenge of the anti-Life 10-day provision in the Texas Advance Directives Act (Chapter 166.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code). In 2015, Chris’s life was threatened when a Houston hospital committee moved to pull the plug against his wishes. Even though Chris’s attorneys convinced the hospital to continue care beyond the ten days, Chris passed away two days before Christmas that year in the midst of the legal battle to prevent the hospital from ending his life.

Evelyn Kelly, Chris Dunn’s mother, sued to challenge the constitutionality of the 10-Day Rule. Under this draconian, anti-Life provision, hospital committees have the power to make unilateral life-or-death decisions for vulnerable patients. The hospital needs only the approval of their own in-house ethics committee to end all treatment, even if ending such care speeds the death of a patient. Conscious and unconscious patients are both subject to the 10-Day Rule, and the removal and denial of treatment can even contradict the written or stated wishes of the patient. Under the current law, patients and their families have just 10 days to find a facility willing and able to accept them.

In Chris’s case, the imbalance of power enshrined in the law was evident in a heartbreaking viral video. The video shows Chris conscious and responsive, praying for his life. Despite this clear indication of the patient’s wishes, the hospital moved to end Chris’s life without a proper diagnosis or attempting treatment. Evelyn recognized that Chris was indeed quite ill, but even so, she was stunned that the very caregivers who were helping on one day came to “send Chris to glory” the next.

After Chris’s passing, his family courageously continues the legal battle in defense of every vulnerable Texan threatened by the 10-Day Rule. Texas Right to Life has assisted more than 400 families fighting for more time to transfer their ailing loved ones under the Texas 10-Day Rule. Chris’s family filed suit to challenge the law but faced a setback in the fall of 2017 when a Harris County district judge ruled that they did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit on behalf of her deceased son.

Medical ethicists around the country support the position of Chris’s family in challenging the anti-Life 10-Day Rule. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton even filed an amicus brief, stating that the 10-Day Rule is unconstitutional, and consequently he would not defend the anti-Life law in court. The 10-Day Rule violates due process and threatens the lives of innocent Texans, depriving hospitalized patients of their civil liberties.

Texas Right to Life supports Evelyn and Chris’s family in their courageous efforts to bring justice for Chris and the countless other Texans threatened by the 10-Day Rule. If the court finds that Evelyn has standing to bring the lawsuit on behalf of her son, this will be one of the most important legal victories in Texas for decades.

In addition to the important challenge in the courts, Pro-Life Texans are hard at work on legislative remedies for the unconstitutional, anti-Life 10-Day Rule. In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed an incremental reform that prevents hospitals from withdrawing nutrition and hydration from most patients under the Texas Advance Directives Act. While a positive step, this reform is not enough to protect patients like Chris.

During this 86th Texas Legislature, Texas Right to Life has prioritized the reform of the anti-Life 10-Day Rule. Senate Bill 2089, authored by State Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and House Bill 3158 by Representative Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) will repeal the 10-day provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act and to enact the law in 11 other states that requires hospitals to continue life-sustaining care until a patient is transferred to a more appropriate care setting.

Follow Texas Right to Life for developments on the legal challenge and legislative reforms of the Texas 10-Day Rule.