Disability advocates weigh in on Texas end-of-life treatment case

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This graphic is in the shape of Texas with the red white and blue lone star state flag inside the outline of the state.

Texas Grappling with End-of-Life Treatment Case

The prognosis for Christopher Dunn, 46, is that his condition is terminal. The unidentified mass in his pancreas has left him bedridden and on life-support since late October.

A month and a half later, however, Dunn remains conscious and able to communicate his wishes, as can be seen in this video from Texas Right to Life, which shows him expressing, by gesturing in a praying motion, his desire to remain on life-support.

On November 13, Dunn’s family received a letter from Houston Methodist Hospital, where Dunn is a patient, informing them that the Hospital’s ethics committee had voted to discontinue his life support. The Dunn family has sued the Hospital and litigation is pending.

Under the Texas Advanced Directives Act, passed in 1999, ethics committees may override the wishes of patients and their guardians. Upon making its determination, hospitals must wait 10 days before withdrawing treatment, to allow patients the chance to transfer to another facility willing to continue providing care.

Not Dead Yet, a long-time opponent of the Texas law, denounced the decision, accusing the Hospital of devaluing Dunn’s life due to his disabilities and suggesting that the hospital is prioritizing saving money over ethical practices.

“It is said [sic] and true that you get more protections in law on death row in Texas than you do in Texas hospitals,” Not Dead Yet said in a news release, from December 9, “This very wrenching contentious issue is usually framed as religious zealots vs medical professionals. Not Dead Yet of Texas believes that in most cases it is a disability/civil rights issue.”

The lawsuit, filed November 20 by Texas Right to Life on the Dunn family’s behalf, argues that the law gives the hospital ethics committees, whose decisions can’t be appealed, too much power and fails to protect the rights of the patients and their families. As they see it, the law should be struck down as contrary to the due process clause of both the U.S. and Texas constitutions.

“Texas Health & Safety Code…violates Plaintiffs right to procedural due process by failing to provide an adequate venue for Plaintiff and those similarly situated to be heard in this critical  life-ending decision,” the lawsuit states. “The law also fails to impose adequate evidentiary safeguards against hospitals and doctors by allowing them to make the decision to terminate life-sustaining treatment in their own unfettered discretion. Finally, the law does not provide a reasonable time or process for a patient to be transferred.”

Thus far, the Harris County Court has twice granted temporary injunctions, blocking the Hospital from withdrawing treatment, the Houston Chronicle reported December 15.