Fighting For The Right To Live When The Hospital Wants To Let You Die

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This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Texas Advanced Directive Act, which allows a hospital to discontinue life-sustaining treatment against the wishes of the patient or patient's family. And to celebrate, the Texas Legislature held hearings this week on an amendment to change the controversial law.

Under the current system, a hospital ethics committee has total power to decide to withhold a patient's treatment. The only possibility for a patient's family is to transfer the patient to another facility within 10 days of the committee's decision. After that, the hospital has the right to pull the plug and is immune from being sued over it.

Houston attorney Robert Painter, who has represented dozens of families whose loved ones are facing the possibility of having treatment withdrawn, including Sabrina Martin, testified before the House State Affairs Committee Tuesday. He tells Hair Balls the proposed amendment would allow patient's families to fight an ethics committee's decision if they disagreed with its ruling. If passed, the new law would allow a patient's family the right to an expedited trial in court to decide whether or not to withdraw treatment, says Painter. It would also allow the family the right to appeal, and gives the high courts five days to render a decision, he says. During this process, hospitals would have to continue caring for the patient until a final verdict is reached.

In addition, says Painter, the so-called "10-day rule" would be eliminated.

"It would take away a blunt tool that can be used to pressure families," he says, "and give patient's families some due process and equal protection. I think this law would be a really good thing and I'm hopeful it will pass."

The next step is for the House to put the amendment to a floor vote, and if it passes, then it would move to the State Senate for consideration.   


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