Texas Bill Fixing Futile Care Law Died But Lawmakers Encourage Change

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 1, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Texas Bill Fixing Futile Care Law Died But Lawmakers Encourage Change

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
June 1
, 2007

Austin, TX (LifeNews.com) — A bill the Texas legislature that would have helped patients and their families left out in the cold by medical facilities died this legislative session. However, lawmakers, pro-life groups and disability rights advocates are still keeping tabs on the futile care situation where hospitals and quit treating patients after 10 days.

The Texas House defeated the futile care bill and measures limiting abortions last week as it wound down its session.

The futile care measure would have increased the 10-day window to 21 days under which families could find a new medical facility to treat a patient after his initial medical center decided to withdraw lifesaving medical treatment.

It would also have had hospitals ensure that patients would not be denied food and water during the transfer time in the way Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death by her former husband.

The Senate has already signed off on the measure and was just two bills away on the agenda from being heard when the legislature closed down for the evening.

Anyone expecting lawmakers and pro-life groups to give up on the concern about protecting patients because the bill died would be wrong.

Sen. Bob Deuell, a physician who authored the bill in the Senate, plans to ask hospitals to change their own policies to conform to the provisions of his legislation.

"High-profile, emotional cases over whether to discontinue treatment on a seriously ill patient are not in the interest of anyone," Deuell, a Republican, told the Houston Chronicle. "By following the direction of this bill, I believe they can be avoided and all parties can be well-served."

Texas Hospital Association officials confirmed they will prepare guidelines for hospitals across the state encouraging them to do more to communicate and work with families in so-called futile care situations.

"The emphasis will be on improving the process on the front end and laying everything out in a simple policy," said Dinah Welsh, senior director of advocacy and public policy for the group. "The idea, if there’s a dispute, is communication, communication, communication."

There’s no guarantee that medical facilities will change their own policies to follow the guidelines or the provisions the bill would have put into place.

The Chronicle contacted Memorial Hermann Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital, where two of the most high-profile futile care battles have occurred. They issued statements saying they have updated their policies to be more patient-friendly.

Elizabeth Graham, the director of Texas Right to Life, said she’s encouraged by the developments and disability rights activists promised more work on the legislation next session.