A new bill advancing through the Texas Legislature would allow doctors to decide when you die, giving them the authority to issue "Do Not Resuscitate" orders regardless of the wishes expressed by patients or their families.
The legislation, known as Texas S.B. 303, is sponsored by State Sen. Bob Duell, vice chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. Duell is a Republican, and the GOP holds the majority in the chamber. The bill has already been approved by the committee.
"This should scare a lot of people because what this bill says is that a doctor can impose a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, write it into the patient's chart even over the patient's objection," said Burke Balch, director of the National Right to Life Committee's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics.
Balch told WND the patient would be left with few options.
"The patient could then appeal to an ethics committee. In the meantime, until that appeal is registered, if the person goes into cardiac arrest, then that person will die. And more to the point, you don't even have the right to appeal to the committee if the doctor says, without being checked by anybody else, that in his opinion your death is imminent," said Balch, who noted that classification is not as clear-cut as people might think.
"The problem is that there's no definition of imminent. There used to be a definition in the law that said your death is considered imminent if you're going to die in minutes to hours. Now we've got some people who say if you're going to die within six months or you're going to die within a year, that means your death is imminent. So what this bill is saying, essentially, is that if the doctor thinks that you're going to maybe die in six months, maybe in a year and they say, 'We think this is imminent,' then you don't even have the right to try to go somewhere and ask that this Do Not Resuscitate order be lifted," he said.
Balch said the bill gets worse. Family guardians and surrogates would also be overruled by the doctor's decision. In addition, the language could also endanger people with nonthreatening conditions if medical professionals determine their quality of life is too poor.
"That means if you've got diabetes, all sorts of things that you're not necessarily going to die of, but if somebody else thinks that person's quality of life is too poor, we shouldn't let them live. In fact, this committee is able to make decisions, not just about resuscitation, but about any other sort of life-saving treatment, even providing food and fluids to you with medical assistance," he said. "If they say that they think that giving you this treatment would 'seriously exacerbate other major medical problems not outweighed by the benefit of the provision of the treatment, then you can be denied this treatment so that you die.'"
Balch said the provision leaves it up to doctors to make the value judgment of whether a person's life is worth living because they have a long-term health challenge.
Sen. Duell and his allies say the NRLC is missing the point in the bill. In fact, Duell argues the legislation gives patients more options when appealing a medical order from their physician. However, Balch said the only part of that defense that rings true is a 10-day period that patients and their families have to find a doctor or hospital that will provide the treatment being denied by the original physician.
On the other hand, current Texas law requires doctors to explain to patients and their loved ones how to challenge the decision. The new bill would make an official from the same hospital that patient's advocate. Balch said that would simply result in hospital administrators trying to convince patients and family members that their lives are not worth living.
Sen. Duell's office declined to provide comment for this story.