Commentary: Texas already has health care 'death panels'

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 26, 2012 

If all you know about healthcare "death panels" is what you heard on a talk show, then you must think the feds will pull the plug on patients.

News bulletin: Texas already has death panels.

A Houston man's life was ended last week.

A leukemia patient identified only as Willie was denied nourishment and died, according to Texas Right to Life.

Since 1999, Texas has given hospital "ethics panels" the authority to end care even if the patient or family wants to continue.

It's called the Texas Futile Care Law. The Texas Senate bill passed in 1999.

Back then, the Senate's presiding officer was Lt. Gov. Rick Perry.

Yes, the governor who says, "I always stand by the side of life."

Willie went to the hospital a few weeks ago with chest pains, according to Texas Right to Life's Elizabeth Graham.

Doctors found pneumonia and leukemia, Graham wrote. After Willie underwent surgery and chemotherapy, his family asked about another hospital or hospice care.

Though he had plenty of insurance, no other facility would accept him. After the legally required 10 days, the hospital ended nourishment.

He was "dehydrated and starved to death completely against the family's desire," Graham wrote.

One of North Texas' more prominent anti-abortion groups is Arlington-based Texans for Life.

"It's not always clear, but sometimes hospitals jerk families around," Director Kyleen Wright said Friday.

"They run down the clock on the 10 days, then say, 'Time's up.' ... The hospital and the ethics board have all the say. Our position is that the family's and patient's desires should be respected."

During a 2010 gubernatorial campaign forum in Denton, a student brought up the law to Perry and opponents Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina.

All three promised they would repeal it.

Then, student Lauren Lutz, a Nolan Catholic High School graduate attending Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, delivered her zinger.

"If you were going to repeal the act," she asked Perry, "why haven't you done it by now? We have been pulling patients off ventilators when their families didn't want that."

He replied sheepishly, "I wasn't aware of that."

Lutz still opposes the law. "It's the whole pro-life question," she said Friday.

"The governor really didn't answer."

Lutz said Texans don't know about our panels because "the little people, the people who are really affected by what goes on Austin, aren't paying enough attention."

Except to talk shows.

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