Families, doctors and health advocates testified Tuesday on the grief and tough decisions surrounding Texas' advance directives law, which allows hospitals to cease treating terminally ill patients after a 10-day waiting period if an ethics panel agrees there is no hope for recovery.
Michael and Jackie Woelfel faced that pain last year, when their son drowned in a swimming pool. The hospital labeled him terminal, the Woelfels said, and gave him three days to "look alive." When he didn't, the parents sat by their son's bedside for the duration of the 10 days, waiting. He died in December.
"Their objective was to have him out of there one way or another," Michael Woelfel said. "We felt like we had to guard him."
HB 3520, by Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would lift the 10-day rule and require hospitals to provide care for terminal patients indefinitely, or until another care placement is found.
Supporters of the measure, like Fort Worth attorney William Collins, said the problem with the current system lies in the short period of time that families have to find a new hospital placement for their loved one — a mere 10 days. Even before the 10 days take effect, Collins said, patients have only 48 hours notice to prepare for a hospital ethics committee meeting, which determines whether or not treatment will be continued.
But opponents like Dr. Amy Arrant, a doctor at St. David's Hospital in South Austin, said that in many cases, doctors discontinue treatment because it's not medically ethical, and can further injure the patient. Arrant attends almost exclusively to terminally ill patients, but said that many families, despite their good intentions, ask too much of doctors.
"Patients should not be given treatments simply because they demand them," Arrant said. "When the risk greatly outweighs the benefit, it is unethical for us to continue."
Catholic bishops also weighed in on the so-called "treat until transfer" measure. Jennifer Allmon of the Texas Catholic Council, who represented the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas, suggested the Legislature conduct a study to examine the intricacies of the issue.
“We have a right to preserve life, but it is not absolute,” Allmon said. “It only prolongs patient suffering and artificially delays death with no real benefit to the patient.”
But Hughes argued that the bill doesn't mandate doctors, but simply provides families and patients with more time to find other health care alternatives. Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, voiced concerned over the amount of time Hughes' bill allows patients and families to search for a new placement, saying it shouldn't stretch to "infinity."