I keep running across news articles like this one in the Dallas Morning News (free subscription required) which claim that Texas has some sort of “futile care” law. There is no such thing as a “Futile Care Law” in Texas and never has been. (Previous LifeEthics posts include several in April, 2006.)
There is a law called the Texas Advance Directive Act (TADA). (Here at the Texas Statutes website in pdf, and an excerpt with my comments, here.) The law was written by a coalition of doctors, lawyers, patient advocates, disability rights groups, and pro-life groups such as Texas Right to Life, National Right to Life, and Texas Alliance for Life.
In that DMN article above, please note that Dr. Fine was interviewed without knowledge that he would be quoted in an article about a very sad case, one which had not come to the point of being subject to TADA at the time of the interview.
I am concerned that Texas Right to Life is not speaking up about why they found the law acceptible in 1999, but feel that they can condemn it – and all doctors and hospitals – now.
We never stop treating the patient. The TADA has never been invoked in order to withhold food or water from patients or from a patient who only needs artificial food and water. The Texas Advance Directive Act does, however, allow doctors to refuse to use medicine and technology that is not in our patient’s best interest, treatment that is harmful or futile.
There are no futile patients, and no “futile care law,” there is only futile medicine and technology.
If my patient suffers organ failure after organ failure, some medicines and technology can become harmful — sometimes by causing side effects and more organ failure, often by prolonging the patient’s dying.
In fact the TADA coalition has been trying to come to a consensus on making sure that the Act cannot be invoked if the only intervention needed is food and water. It has also been agreed that the Coalition will support a longer period of notice before the ethics committee meeting is held, that medical records need to be offered in a timely manner and that the family should have two weeks in order to find another doctor or facility.
The cases in Texas which have been cited to criticize the TADA include:
- A woman who had been in the ICU for 4 or 5 months after heart surgery, who had had a stroke and was on a ventilator. Her doctors had suggested to her family that perhaps they should not begin dialysis when her kidneys failed. The family rejected the suggestion and the patient had to have continuous, then intermittent dialysis. She then needed increasing doses of medicines to raise her blood pressure. After a while, the attending doctor again suggested stopping or withholding the addition of new treatments because of the risk of pain and complications that each treatment added on top of the previous complications. Again, the family refused. The doctor decided that he couldn’t continue to escalate the interventions and asked for an ethics committee meeting under 166.046. The family members postponed several times, putting off the meeting. Somewhere in this time, the family threatened legal action, picketing, and raising as much bad publicity for the family as they could muster. Finally, the hospital set a meeting for a firm time and refused to budge. The ethics committee members agreed with the doctor and began the process to help the family find a new doctor or a new facility for the patient. The family began protests that became news nation-wide. A new doctor was found and additional treatments and invasive interventions were performed on the patient. Finally, the doctor reported that the patient had had a heart attack, and the ventilator was stopped without verifying brain death.
- In another case, the patient was brain dead, but the family members sued to prevent the doctor – who had been the woman’s family doctor for years – from turning off the ventilator. A new doctor came in, did an additional test, and confirmed that the patient was brain dead.
- A third case involved a woman who had a stroke, was unconscious and required a ventilator and dialysis. The patient’s daughter was an ER doctor in that hospital. There are no Texas long term facilities that offer dialysis to an unconscious patient on a ventilator. The patient was sent home with home dialysis and ventilator.
- A fourth case involved another woman who had had a stroke, was unconscious and required dialysis. There is still no facility in Texas that offers dialysis for a comatose patient on a ventilator. Her family objected to the hospital’s “forcing” them to move her to another facility. Eventually, she was moved to another state, where there is a long term facility that could provide the treatment she needed.
Unfortunately, a repeating theme from some of the lawyers at the meetings is an objection that doctors are protected from malpractice if they follow the Act.
Two identical Bills before the Texas Legislature, SB 439 and HB 1094 not only remove the current protection from risk of malpractice for doctors who follow their consciences and would require doctors to use ever escalationg “life saving treatment” until (as in the case of Andrea Clark) the family decides to remove it or until transfer to another doctor or facility is arranged, without a time limit.
Concerning abortion due to failure of contraception and prescribing contraceptives to 14 to 16 year olds when parents object, the Chicago Tribune reports that some believe this is the case:
That approach doesn’t even give a patient the option to access other physicians,” said R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study. “It’s a raw imposition of your personal beliefs on all those who come to you for professional services.”