Human Exceptionalism

Texas Catholic Bishops Support Futile Care Theory

This is pretty inexcusable: As readers of SHS know, Texas is in the midst of a political battle to amend the futile care law to prevent patients, such as Andrea Clark, from being denied wanted life-sustaining treatment. Currently the law permits hospital ethics committees–meeting behind closed doors with no open record, right to cross examination, or other due process legal procedures–to refuse wanted life sustaining treatment and cut off care 10 days later (other than comfort measures and palliation) if the family has been unable to arrange a transfer to another institution. This is often difficult because the patients are expensive to care for, and some suspect, because hospitals don’t wish to stand against each other’s futile care determinations.

HB439/SB 1094 would do away with the 10-day rule and require treatment to continue until a transfer can be effectuated. But now, Bishop Gregory Aymond, speaking for the Texas Bishops and the Texas Catholic Conference, has come out against this good approach and instead, supported maintaining a modified futile care permissiveness in Texas.

HB 3474, as currently amended in committee, would expand the waiting period from 10 to 21 days, but also permit hospitals to refuse new forms of treatment that might be needed by the patient during the waiting period. In his testimony in support of what would still permit hospital ethics committees and physicians to impose their values on patients/families, Bishop Aymond confuses a patient/family choosing to refuse life sustaining treatment with hospital ethics committees imposing their views that the patient should not receive it.

We believe, and the tradition of our Church has always taught, that a person should be allowed to die with dignity and have a peaceful death. We believe that that is in conformity to God’s will and that God is the one who chooses life and death. It is the teaching of the Church that we should not interfere with that. We also realize that sometimes families, through no fault of their own, are really not able to make those decisions because of their involvement, because of the emotions.

This is little different than utilitarian bioethicists claiming that families shouldn’t be able to make such decisions because of the guilt they feel or misplaced religious belief. But I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. Some Catholic hospitals have supported futile care theory all along. Indeed, Children’s Hospital of Austin, where Baby Emilio is the center of a futile care controversy, is a Catholic institution.

There are reasons for this. Part of it, of course, is a sincere desire to do right by very sick patients, even if the patient does not agree. But I also think that “social justice”–a polite term in this instance for resource issues and money–is also part of the equation since we are talking about some of the most expensive patients for which to care.

I have spent most of today dealing with this development and will have more to say about it very soon.

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