May 20, 2024


Legislators are having second thoughts about a controversial futile- care law in Texas. This stipulates that if a hospital review committee feels that further treatment of a patient is futile, it must give a patient’s family 10 days to find another facility to care for them. Otherwise the hospital can end treatment — even if family members object. Texas Right to Life, the state’s leading pro- life group, originally supported the law as a compromise between the rights of families to protect their loved ones and the right of doctors to withhold treatment which will not benefit patients. However, several high-profile cases have turned the law into a battleground.

Recently, legal action kept Memorial Hermann Hospital from pulling the plug on a severely brain-damaged woman, Kalilah Roberson-Reese. Now she has regained some consciousness, responds to familiar voices and can sit upright in a chair. “Nobody has the right to determine whether my daughter should live or not,” says her mother, Cynthia Deason.

As Chicago Tribune reporter Howard Witt comments, the debate echoes the right-to-die debate of the 1970s and 80s, when patient advocates pressed for the right of the terminally ill to refuse burdensome treatment. But now hospitals have been empowered to withdraw the treatment against the wishes of their advocates. The director of Right to Life, Elizabeth Graham, says that decisions may sometime be financially motivated. “The hospitals will say it is not, of course, but it does seem that the majority of patients or families calling us for help are either uninsured, underinsured, or they have Medicaid.”

Disability groups also oppose the law. “People who don’t see the value of living with a significant disability are determining whether your life is a burden and treatment is futile,” says Colleen Horton, of the Texas Center for Disability Studies.