Louisiana Bill Protecting Incapacitated Patients Advances

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 16, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Louisiana Bill Protecting Incapacitated Patients Advances Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
May 16, 2005

Baton Rouge, LA (LifeNews.com) — Legislation that would protect disabled or incapacitated patients like Terri Schiavo advanced in the state Senate last week. Lawmakers approved a measure that would prohibit the removal of feeding tubes from such patients who are unable to make their own medical decisions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee backed the measure on a unanimous vote, but also added an amendment to the bill that could threaten its survival.

Under the measure, sponsored by Sen. James David Cain, doctors would not be able to remove a patient’s feeding tube unless the person specifically authorized it in an advanced directive.

However, Sen. Cleo Fields, a Democrat, added a potentially damaging amendment to require the state to pay for the medical care of patients who have not authorized a feeding tube removal and whose families are unable to pay for medical care.

"The state will pay, and should," Fields said, according to a New Orleans Times Picayune report.

Some lawmakers may oppose the bill citing financial concerns, Cain, a Republican said. He’s worried about the amendment potentially sending the measure to the Senate Finance Committee, where it may die as a result.

The committee heard testimony from Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother. He asked legislators to adopt the proposal and talked about Terri’s death.

"She suffered a slow death," he said. "Dehydration is not something I can ever describe to you."

"Every life is sacred, and we need to treat life that way. We should err on the side of human life," Schindler added. He said the bill would help other families avoid having to go through the "absolutely horrific" trials the Schindlers did during Terri’s painful 13 day starvation death.

The bill says doctors should presume "every qualified patient legally incapable of making health care decisions desires to be provided" food and water "within reasonable medical judgment to sustain life."

Exceptions are only made if providing wood and water would hasten the patient’s death are impossible to provide the patient.

Pro-life groups such as the Louisiana Right to Life Federation and Louisiana Family Forum back the legislation, SB 40. The Louisiana Hospital Association and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill.

Family Forum executive director Gene Mills also testified at the hearing.

"The question is not, ‘Are we sustaining life beyond a reasonable point, but are we making people die prematurely prior to an appropriate ethical and moral natural time?’" Mills said.

The measure includes a policy statement saying the state legislature regards human life, including the lives of disabled people, as "sacred" and that such people "should be afforded dignity."

If there is any question as to the wishes of the patient, the measure instructs doctors to presume the patient would want to live and receive food and water.

Senate President Donald Hines, a Democrat, and Senator Tom Schedler, a Republican, also testified in the committee and urged members to reject the bill.

Democratic Sens. Edwin Murray, Nick Gautreaux and Republican Craig Romero voted for the Fields amendment. Republican Sen. Bob Kostelka, Democrat Reggie Dupre and Art Lentini, the chairman of the judiciary panel, voted against it.

Rep Gary Beard has filed a similar bill in the state House.