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Another kind of lawyer joke

“[T]he doctor/bioethics committee thinks the patient should die.” Wesley J. Smith, Esq., Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee, 4/10/2019 LifeNews.com

Wesley Smith is a rarity among the many lawyers who chased bioethics to the bedside late in the last century: he actually believes in the sanctity of human life and in the right of conscience. I’ve attended and reported on his debates and encounters with proponents of intentional euthanasia. And even happily defended him.

Unfortunately, Lawyer Smith was not above spinning the truth this month when he came from California to once again misrepresent the Texas Advance Directive Act (“TADA,” “the Act,” or “166.___”), an attempt to balance conflicting rights when doctors disagree with a patient or his surrogates about actual medical procedures and treatments that the doctor believes harms the patient.

On April 10, 2019 Mr. Smith gave invited testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in favor of SB 2089 (Hughes) and
SB 2129 (Creighton). LifeNews.com published part of his testimony online, under the title, “Texas Rule Allows Hospitals to Essentially Euthananize Patients After a 10-Day Notification.”

Mr. Smith doesn’t just contradict multiple Supreme Court rulings since Cruzan (1990) affirming that withholding or withdrawing treatment is not equivalent to euthanasia. Paradoxically, he echoes arguments that anti-conscience activists use to justify abortion on demand, Physician Assisted Suicide and intentional euthanasia by a third party by claiming that the principle of autonomy supercedes “First, do no harm,” or non-malevelence, and the right to conscience.

(You can watch all of Part I and Part II of the April 10, 2019 Health and Human Services Committee meeting addressing SB 2089 by Senator Bryan Hughes and SB 2129 by Senator Brandon Creighton online. Part I includes Mr. Smith’s testimony beginning at 33:00/1:01:10.)

We’ll skip Mr. Smith’s assertion that there is a right to force others to provide everyone medical care in general, not just in emergencies or at the end of life. I’ve covered these assertions and his attacks on the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops I’m, back in 2007.

Today, let’s just look at his spin on the current version of TADA.

Lawyer Smith uses emotionally weighted terms that aren’t in TADA, such as, “life-extending,” “futile care,” “permitting the institution to force its will on patients and families,” “invidious discrimination,” and “inappropriate care.” He contrasts patient’s “rights” with doctor’s “values,” and is the first that day to raise the specter of doctors willing to kill when patients are “expensive.” And, reflected in the LifeNews.com headline, Mr. Smith flatly says that TADA allows euthanasia – intentional acts to kill patients – equivalent to the administration of injections or medications that he wrote about this week.

As I’ve stated so many times in past WingRight.org and LifeEthics.org posts, TADA doesn’t allow us to remove or withhold care for patients, only treatments that are “medically inappropriate.” There are no futile patients, only futile treatments that cause harm to the patient over and over, without any expectation of reversing organ failure after organ failure.

Mr. Smith also ignores the multiple attempts by the medical and pro-life community and Legislature to improve the law’s timeframe and communication, much as Senator Creighton’s Bill. One example from 2007, SB 439 by Senator Bob Deuell, would have required written notice and an offer of a private ethics consult to take place at least seven days before the hospital committee meeting. That Bill had a schedule for giving the patient or surrogates written information about the dispute process, copies of medical records, and lists of resources. The family would have been given access to the committee meeting, with their own advocates. When the committee agreed that the treatment requested was inappropriate, the family would have receive assistance in searching for7⅞ another doctor or facility for at least another 21 days. I believe that the Bill bogged down in the House because of opposition from Texas Right to Life to any Bill that did not include liability for doctors and the indefinite “treatment until transfer” in this year’s SB 2089.

In the last five minutes of the Part I video, another lawyer, Texas Right to Life General Council Emily Cook, gave us the best clue about the ultimate goal of her organization: “judicial review.

Ms. Cook and Mr. Smith would have every one of these disputes settled by a Court. This is the Texas trial lawyers’ dream: a huge weapon against our State’s tort reform.

Today, the law specifically allows an appeal to a County probate judge when the Committee agrees with the doctor’s decision. SB 2129 allows a request for an injunction in any Court in the County, enabling “judge shopping.” Since it also prohibits the County from charging the patient or his surrogates any fees, the costs would fall solely on the County.

Ultimately, SB 2129 would make it much, much easier to sue the doctor and the hospital, moving Medical decision-making into the courtroom.

Most of the “stakeholders” for patient rights in Texas (including Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Coalition of Texans With Disabilities, Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association, Catholic Hospital Association, Texas Nurses Association, and the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops and many others) oppose both of the Bills that Mr. Smith favored. Since SB 2129 would mandate that the County pick up any Court costs and that the judge make his ruling within five days, don’t be surprised if we hear objections from representatives of these parties, too.

So what’s the “joke?”

It could be the ridiculous notion that Lawyer Smith is a mind reader, able to discern the “invidious” motives for the “discrimination” he feels doctors and hospitals routinely practice:

“To fully comprehend the unjust nature of Texas law in this regard, realize that these “futile care” or “inappropriate care” decisions do not terminate treatment because it won’t work, but because it does. It is keeping the patient alive when the doctor/bioethics committee thinks the patient should die.” (Emphasis from LifeNews.com’s transcript.)

He repeatedly comments that physician’s decisions about medically appropriate treatment are subjective and that they (we) might “project their fears and their desires onto the patient” based on our “values,” rather than medical judgement based on repeated, at least once a day examination of the patient, reports by the nurses and staff and our education and experience.

The joke might be that Lawyer Smith volunteered that the indefinite, repeated evaluation and medical decision-making against the medical judgement of doctors would not be “slavery.” I would like to know what Lawyer Smith calls the legal requirement to use one’s body and brain to carry out actions, including writing orders for nurses and other medical staff, against your will.

It might be tragically funny to watch “judicial review” end up with the two sides hiring expert witnesses – doctors – to give the judge opposing views. There’s dark humor in the realization that ultimately the judge would order the original doctor to use her medical judgement to provide treatment – against her best medical judgement.

But the real joke is that “judicial review” risks the unintended consequence of decisions made by judges like the late t Judge George Greer, who Mr. Smith wrote about in this article.

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