On Wednesday, January 13, 2010, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 242-113 to stop House Bill 304, a bill that would have allowed the terminally ill to “obtain legal prescriptions” to end their lives. Supporters argued that the sick needed this bill to “die with dignity.”
The New Hampshire decision comes in the wake of a growing prevalence of right-to-die bills being introduced in state capitols across the nation. In the past fifteen years, moves to legalize euthanasia have also appeared in many states in the form of referendums and propositions.
In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize euthanasia with the “Death with Dignity Act.” According to the law, patients thought to be terminally ill and expected to die within six months are legally allowed to end their lives. In 2008, the state of Washington followed suit with the “Washington Initiative 1000.”
Although only two states have formally legalized euthanasia and a third state has defeated similar legislation, we in Texas still have reason to be wary.
Under the Texas Futile Care Law (Chapter 166.046 of Texas Health and Safety Code) adopted in 1999, an ethics committee (also known as a “death panel”), coupled with the will of the attending physician, can override the wishes of the patient and the family and formally withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment such as feeding tubes and ventilators. If the family disagrees, they can attempt to transfer their loved one to another facility, but they only have ten days to do so before the time is up, and then, literally, the plug is pulled.
The problem with this law is that ten days is not enough time to facilitate the transfer of a patient. Although seemingly progressive at the time of passage since in many other states, if the doctor or family wants to refuse treatment, the patient can die with no waiting period or chance for a transfer, ten days is not sufficient as we know from helping over forty families navigate this brutal and heartwrenching transfer process. Texas Right to Life seeks reform to the law so that a longer, more realistic grace period is given for transfers to be effectuated.