On the anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s murder, Texas urgently needs reform to protect patients

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March 31 marks the tragic day when Terri Schiavo succumbed to death by dehydration after almost 14 days without food and water.  As a seemingly healthy woman in the prime of life, Schiavo suffered a brain injury in 1990.  In the years that followed she was not terminally ill, and she was not on life support.  As a brain-injured disabled woman, Terri was expected to live a long life.  Through a prolonged legal battle, her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, succeeded in his efforts to starve and dehydrate Terri to death.  The grave injustice of Terri’s tragic and inhumane death—after almost 14 days without food or water—is that the state of Florida sanctioned her death.

Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, together with Terri’s brother, Bobby, and sister, Suzanne, have worked tirelessly to preserve her legacy.  The injustice and inhumanity of Terri’s imposed death inspired the grieving family to found the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.  The organization works to defend the human dignity of the medically vulnerable.  The Life & Hope Network accomplishes this through a 24/7 hotline for families facing threats of denial of care.  Through this hotline, the groups has assisted thousands of patients.  The Life & Hope Network also works through advocacy on legislation including: the right to food and water, the presumption of the will to live, due process against denial of care, protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine, and access to rehabilitative care.

Terri’s legacy and the Life & Hope Network are of great importance during this session of the Texas Legislature.  The Texas Advance Directives Act (Chapter 166.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code) endangers vulnerable patients like Terri.  For years, Bobby Schindler has been an outspoken critic of TADA and joined Pro-Life groups in Texas in our efforts to reform this dangerous, anti-Life law.

During the current session, Texas legislators can ensure that substantive reform becomes law.  TADA has ended countless lives, like that of American hero Chris Dunn.  TADA authorizes physicians and hospitals to withdraw and deny life-sustaining medical care, even against the expressed wishes of patients and their families.  Even if a patient is conscious, as Chris was, and requests that his care be continued, Texas law empowers hospitals to withdraw, deny, and stop all care once the in-house “ethics” committee approves that decision.  Even if the patient presents a legal medical directive expressing his or her wishes, this so-called “ethics” committee comprised of hospital personnel can override the advance directive and withdraw life-sustaining care.  The decisions to do so are subjective “quality of life” judgments imposed on patients by the facility and the treatment team.

The unjust rule of TADA could end this session.  Senate Bill 1213 by Senator Bryan Hughes and House Bill 4090 by Representative Stephanie Klick, RN, would reform TADA.  The Pro-Life reform would restore the rights of patients by removing the ten-day clock, allowing the patient adequate time to transfer to another physician or facility where care will be provided.

The tragedy of Terri’s state-sanctioned murder in 2005 was also a warning to all of us.  The Right to Life extends to medically vulnerable patients.  When our laws fail to the most vulnerable, we must act to reform those laws.  Contact your legislators to urge them to support TADA reform.  We must ensure that patients like Terri are protected in our state.

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