Someone named Rich DeOtte has written a Facebook piece attacking friends of mine. Rich mocks Dr. Joe Pojman as “a rocket scientist” and “knucklehead” (needless to say, that’s not popular in the Nuckols household) and takes a slap at Kyleen Wright, of Texans for Life Coalition and the Texas Medical Association.
Dr. Joe Pojman, Ph.D., is indeed a “rocket scientist,” who gave up his original career path of aerospace engineering to sacrifice as founder and Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Life, an organization I’m proud to support and serve as a Board member.
Joe wrote the op-ed that Rich attacks in direct response to the “misrepresentations” in another, political op-ed piece by Emily Kebedeaux Cook on the Texas Right to Life Website. Joe only wrote about issues, and did not engage in name calling or derision. The only reason Emily and TRTL are mentioned is because she’s the author of the political opinion piece about the “decline in the Texas Legislature’s efforts to protect human Life.”
As Joe points out, the very document to which Emily refers refutes her position: Texas was named one of three “Life List All-Stars” for 2016 by the Americans United for Life.
Joe laid out the case that our Texas Legislature’s pro-life laws are most definitely not at a standstill: we are ahead of the Nation. Joe’s position that Texas leaders gave us many successes in the 2015 84th Legislature is supported by the similar list of “Wins” reported by the Texas Catholic Conference, representing the Bishops of Texas. In an earlier letter, TCC notes that many of the criticisms Emily makes in her February 8th blog post were not previously scored “equitably” by TRTL. For instance, Senator Bob Deuell received no credit for authoring much of what became HB2.
In fact, Texas’ Legislative leadership in passing pro-life laws is why many of us are going to Washington, DC on March 2nd to bear witness when the Supreme Court hears testimony on the abortion facility regulations in HB2.
Emily and Rich focus most of their criticism on the efforts of pro-life groups, including doctors like me, to reform end of life care and the Texas Advance Directive Act (TADA). Session after session since it was passed, we in the pro-life community have had our efforts repeatedly blocked by the “death panel” accusations Rich makes and the demands in Emily’s op-ed.
I was one of the doctors appointed to the Texas Medical Association ad hoc committee that evaluated last sessions’ end of life Bills for TMA approval. Our group of doctors agreed to and helped fine tune HB 3074, what Emily called a “modest protection”: prohibiting the removal of Artificially Administered Nutrition and Hydration, including food and water by invasive medical methods like IV’s and “Total Parenteral Nutrition.” We were called anti-life and pro-“death panel” (Rich’s words) for including medical exceptions for the rare circumstances when the patient can’t process the AANH and/or when it actually caused harm.
Those “three strongest Pro-Life bills” that Emily mentioned were included in the “Wins” listed by the TCC. The Bills not only would have forced doctors to continue to indefinitely perform acts that we believe are not medically appropriate as long as a patient or his family demands it. They would have forced all disputes between the doctors practicing medicine and patients or their families into court and add “liability”(civil and criminal penalties) for the doctor.
Forget if you can, that if all disputes go to court judges would be required to determine medical care – to practice medicine – probably based on the testimony of dueling, paid medical expert doctors. Malpractice rates will go up for doctors taking on the most vulnerable patients – the elderly, the trauma victims and the victims of cancer. Those doctors will spend more time in courts, rather than in the ICU. And so will more grieving families.
We found out what happens when malpractice goes up in Texas, before tort reform was passed. Because of the malpractice crisis, there were no neurosurgeons west and south of San Antonio and Houston – none at all in El Paso or all of South Texas. We were losing obstetricians and family doctors willing to deliver babies and offer prenatal care, all over the State.
I don’t know how to translate past physician shortages directly into the possible shortage of doctors providing end of life care. However, I will predict that fewer family doctors, internists, pulmonologists and the ICU intensivists will be able to afford to practice in the ICU. Just as a patient had to be flown to Dallas, San Antonio or Houston from most of Texas for a head injury, only the tertiary medical centers in those cities will be able to staff their ICU’s properly.
Physicians, not hospitals – and certainly not courts – practice medicine in Texas. Doctors must be allowed to practice medicine according to our medical judgment, which is a combination of education and experience, under the watchful eye of the community; not “death panels,” but fellow physicians, nurses, ethicists, lawyers (who may be any of the former) and lay people. In the end, if you force the hands and minds of doctors against their judgment, you will end up with doctors practicing without judgment, and humans with inalienable rights forced to act against our will and in violation of our conscience.
And, now, back to Rich’s Facebook post. Think twice when you read political posts full of personal attacks and name calling. We should be able to discuss politics without, as Emily said in her blog post, “unnecessary, vicious, and vindictive fights inside the Republican Party.”
Edited to fix a name glitch – BBN
Laws relating to medical ethics debates are generally behind medical advances.
Unfortunately, those debates often become emotional and heated, and the individuals who are affected often face the “hard questions” of ethical dilemmas while reacting to life and death emergencies. When law-making is controversial, it’s best to go back to the basics of ethics for guidance: the inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” the Declaration of Independence, and Constitution.
All laws limit our rights, but good laws are based on the fact that these inalienable rights are negative rights: they are meant to prevent one person – or the government – from infringing the rights of another. Ethical laws strike a balance between seemingly conflicting rights. They prohibit or punish harmful actions, but they don’t compel a desired action against the will.
However, since there is a hierarchy of rights (the right to life trumps the right to liberty and property, liberty trumps property, etc.), there are very rare circumstances when it is appropriate for laws to compel individuals to act for the benefit of another. These laws should only go so far as to protect the life and freedom of the vulnerable patient or client, for a limited time with the goal of allowing safe transfer of the obligation to someone else.
For instance, parents are required to care for and protect their minor children since they are helpless and unable to legally consent or make contracts. And State laws require that doctors and lawyers be licensed, obtain certain levels of education, and follow specific, positive actions when they wish to withdraw from a professional relationship with or refuse the request of a patient or client.
That brings us to the controversy over the Texas Advance Directive Act of 1999 (“TADA” or “the Act”). In addition to describing “Advance Directives to Physicians” (also known as a “Living Will), TADA also attempts to outline the procedure for resolving any disagreement between a doctor and patients or their surrogates regarding medical treatments, especially concerning end of life care.
When I first read the Act, I (naively) thought it was malpractice protection for doctors who did not want to withdraw or withhold care. There have actually been a few “wrongful prolongation of life” lawsuits against doctors who – knowingly or not – used CPR when the patient had a Living Will.
Most of the time, however, TADA is invoked when the attending physician “refuses” a request to actively administer medical treatment that he or she believes is medically inappropriate. The steps laid out in the law involve the doctor’s notification of his refusal to the patient or the surrogate, the rules for assisting with transfer of care to another doctor who believes the treatment request is appropriate, and asking for a medical or ethics committee to be convened at the hospital. If no other willing doctor can be found and the committee agrees with the doctor, the treatment can be withheld or withdrawn (after 10 days). During that time, full life-sustaining treatment must continue and the hospital is required to provide medical records and to actively assist in looking for another doctor and/or hospital.
The law does never allow patients to be killed by intentionally stopping breathing. The law does prohibit withholding of pain medicine or comfort care and the removal of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration.”
Medical judgment is how doctors utilize our education, experience, and consciences as we plan and anticipate the effect of each medical intervention or treatment. “Life sustaining treatments are not “basic” or “usual care.” Nor are they one-time events without consequences. The interventions require a physician to administer and maintain. They must be monitored by observation and tests, and adjustments need to be made intermittently so that the treatment is effective and not harmful. They may lead to further more invasive and aggressive interventions and the need for the skills of other doctors in other specialties.
In some cases, patients and their advocates report trouble finding other doctors willing to provide the treatment that the first doctor thought was inappropriate. In my opinion, that difficulty is due to physicians’ common education and shared experiences – to medical reality, not ill intent.
Texas law is clear that only doctors may practice medicine by diagnosing and treating patients directly or “ordering” other medical personnel. Although TADA outlines specific duties for hospitals and hospital medical or ethics committees who determine whether or not the care is medically inappropriate, the process can only be invoked by the “attending physician” who is being asked to act against his medical judgment. The committee acts as a safeguard, to uphold medical ethics and the standard of medical care. In a formal meeting, the committee members review the case and either agree or disagree with the doctor as to whether he or she is correct about what is “medically inappropriate” treatment, for the patient.
Unfortunately, the Act has become known as the “Texas Futile Care Law,” and divides even the pro-life community. One side claims that doctors, hospitals and hospital committees are biased and should not be allowed to determine medically inappropriate care, and that doctors are obligated to give any and all desired treatment “until transfer.” Others want each case to go to court, where lawyers, judges and juries would settle every difference of opinion about “medically appropriate treatment.”
Ultimately, even the lawyers would need to consult doctors, unless the judges start writing orders for doctors, nurses, and medical professionals.
Our laws normally prohibit actions and only very rarely compel people to act. Under the conditions laid out in TADA, it is possible that the doctor can be forced to act against his medical judgment, but only for a limited, stated period of time. TADA is an attempt to balance conflicting rights: the patient’s wishes for medical intervention with liberty of the physician to practice medicine to the best of his judgment and conscience.
(Edited 03/11/18 to add a missing quotation mark. BBN)
Remember: Senator Bob Duell was instrumental in convincing the medical community to adopt voluntary procedures to protect patients and families affected by the Texas Advance Directive Act, even though actual amendments to the law have been blocked by the very people attacking him.
How much “freedom” does a third party Political Action Committee have in their paid ads? Is it wrong to challenge them legally when the ads are blatantly false?
In this case, the ad opens by implying that Senator Duell is responsible for the too-short 10 day period allowed to find alternate care when the family or patient disagrees with the doctor at the end of life.
Senator Duell was not in the Senate when the Texas Advance Directive Act was passed in 1999. Members of the PAC, Texas Right to Life, were present and lobbied in favor of the Act.
In contrast, Senator Duell has for years been a strong advocate for amendments that would have increased the power of families to protect their loved ones in the case of disputes with the doctor. The amendments would have changed the waiting period to at least a month before any disputed decisions by the doctor would take effect.
As to the challenge, Senator Duell has excellent support for his case:
The Texas Catholic Conference and Catholic Bishops of Texas, who supported Deuell’s bill, have debunked the claims. They said that Texas Right to Life “has tried to stoke fear through ridiculous claims of non-existent death panels and assertions that doctors are secretly trying to kill patients. Both claims are absurd.” The Catholic Conference also ripped Texas Right to Life for spreading “fabrications” about the position of Catholics on the issue.