Health Care "Reform" Bills Would Exacerbate Death Panels Already in Texas

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 26, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Health Care "Reform" Bills Would Exacerbate Death Panels Already in Texas

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 26
, 2009

Austin, TX ( — The government-run health care bills in Congress have come under criticism from those who say they would establish "death panels" or give doctors financial incentives to promote rationed health care or euthanasia. In Texas, where that is already happening, critics say the legislation would make it worse.

Texas currently has a futile care law in place that allows medical facilities to give families just 10 days to find places to care for their loved ones when a medical center refuses treatment.

The law only requires the hospital to provide the patient and family with 48 hours’ notice before a hospital "ethics" committee meets and makes a decision on terminating life support. Then the 10-day futile care statute goes into effect.

There are few due-process safeguards in the law to protect patients during this committee proceeding.

Robert W. Painter, an attorney in Houston at Painter Law Firm who received the pro-life attorney of the year award from Texas Right to Life, has written an editorial in the Washington Times focusing on how the government-run health care plan would exacerbate the situation in Texas.

He points out how former Republican vice-presidential candidate was panned for suggesting that Section 1233 of the House health care bill would lead to "death panels" because the bill would allow Medicare to pay doctors to counsel or steer end-of-life decisions for a patient every five years or more often in some cases.

"The truth is, for many states, Mrs. Palin’s assessment likely is dead-on," Painter writes.

Painter explains that, under the Texas law, "the hospital and others involved are cloaked with complete criminal, civil and licensing immunity. In other words, even if the hospital’s decision to pull life support was incorrect, it is immune from lawsuit or prosecution."

"Under Texas law, the hospitals are not just allowed to try to persuade a family to ‘pull the plug’ but are allowed to take the action themselves and end all curative care if the family disagrees," he says.

"All this sounds quite like a ‘death panel’ to me," he adds.

"The Texas experience should not be ignored in the face of proposed legislation that would nationalize a policy that further goes against individual rights," Painter writes.

"The proposal is to pay doctors to counsel patients on end-of-life decisions. In practice, those consultations likely would take place frequently, considering that it is left to the doctor to determine what a ‘significant change in the health condition’ is," he says. "Further, imagine how worn out senior citizens might feel by the repetitive discussion each time they move between a nursing home, long-term care facility or hospital."

"The end-of-life provisions of the Obama health care plan would upset the balance of power in health care decision-making in favor of doctors and hospitals and against individuals and families," the pro-life attorney says.

Painter continues: "The federal legislation provides an economic incentive for doctors and hospital administrators to use Medicare funds to start hastening certain patient deaths a bit sooner under existing state laws. In Texas, that balance already is tipped in favor of the health care providers, and the proposed federal legislation would only make matters worse by placing more Medicare dollars on that side of the scale."

"Federal lawmakers interested in protecting individual and patient rights need to study carefully the end-of-life provisions with the understanding that the law will be implemented in health care settings governed under 50 different sets of state law," he continues.

"Admittedly, the warning of ‘death panels’ is a shocking claim," Painter concludes. "But when I inform people of the effect of the Texas law and how it has trampled on individual rights, they are understandably shocked."

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