Two comprehensive medical ethics reform measures are pending, without yet receiving a committee hearing, in the Texas Legislature. Senate Bill 1213 by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and House Bill 4090 by Representative Stephanie Klick, R.N. (R – Fort Worth) both seek to provide protections for the sick, elderly, and disabled patients in Texas hospitals. Senate Bill 1213 is in the Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and House Bill 4090 is in the House Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).
For nearly two decades, Texas residents have suffered under a particular provision of state law in the Texas Advance Directives Act. The problematic law stripped patients and their medical surrogates of the ability to direct their own healthcare decisions, resulting in patients who are denied life-sustaining treatment, including dialysis and artificial nutrition and hydration. Although the provision of food and water was generally corrected in the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, the draconian state law has continued to allow biased panels in hospitals to override the decision making authority of patients, medical powers of attorney, or a patient’s nearest kin. In recent litigation in Harris County, Evelyn Kelly, individually and on behalf of the estate of Chris Dunn v. Houston Methodist Hospital, the Texas Attorney General’s Office submitted an amicus brief that outlined myriad ways in which the current law lacks constitutional due process requirements for patients.
Senate Bill 1213/House Bill 4090 balances the protection of a patient’s Right-to-Life with a treatment team’s need to facilitate better communication with a patient and/or their loved ones. Senate Bill 1213 keeps intact the current conflict resolution process outlined in the Texas Advance Directives Act, allowing for an ethics committee meeting to be held if there is a disagreement between a patient and the attending physician regarding continuing provision of life-sustaining treatment. Under these measures, if an ethics committee agrees to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from a patient, then the hospital and physician objecting to the treatment must work to facilitate a transfer to another facility, providing life-sustaining treatment until the patient is transferred.
Both Senator Hughes and Representative Klick have long advocated for protecting patients under the Texas Advance Directives Act. Texas Right to Life, the only statewide organization that regularly helps patients being denied life-sustaining treatment under current law, commented. “We believe Senate Bill 1213 and House Bill 4090 adequately balances protecting the dignity and autonomy of individual patients while still respecting the professional views and opinions of medical providers by providing a clear communication mechanism for the hospital, while removing the hospital’s unilateral authority to forcefully end a patient’s Life,” said John Seago, Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.
Protecting patients has been an uphill battle in the Texas Legislature for many years, but with increased media attention on experiences such as those of veteran Chris Dunn in Houston, Texas Right to Life is confident that both the political and medical interests involved will see this particular legislation over the finish line.