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SB 917/HB 2609: Respecting Texas Patients’ Right to Life Act of 2021

Testimony in favor of this bill given by

Julie Grimstad, Patient Advocate
President of the Board of the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO)

My name is Julie Grimstad. I have been a patient advocate for over 35 years and currently serve as the President of the Board of the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO). HALO promotes, protects, and advocates for the rights of the medically vulnerable. 

When we are sick and vulnerable, we count on physicians to protect and preserve our lives to the best of their ability. It boggles the mind that care which is beneficial and chosen by a patient can be deemed “medically inappropriate” and legally denied to a patient by third parties [(Texas Advance Directives Act, (§166.046)]. The interests and goals of physicians and hospital ethics committees, in such cases, conflict with the interests and goals of patients and their families. This seriously undermines trust in our doctors and hospitals. 

SB 917 will go a long way toward improving patients’ trust in their physicians and hospitals. It will help eliminate the adversarial relationship the current law fosters and motivate doctors and hospitals to work with families to find other care settings and solutions for providing the care and treatment that patients need and want. 

As currently worded, the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA) contradicts itself. Regarding a medical power of attorney, TADA stipulates in §166.163 that “treatment cannot be given to you or stopped over your objection.” Yet §166.046 empowers physicians to override patients’ wishes, thereby contradicting the very purpose of TADA and medical advance directives! 

TADA also conflicts with the Patient Self-Determination Act, the federal law which requires hospitals to inform patients of their right to execute an advance directive to ensure that their treatment wishes will be known and honored in the event they become incapacitated. [Patient Self-Determination Act, Pub. L. 101-508, §§4206 and 4751, codified at 42 USC §§1395 et seq. (1994)]

SB 917 removes the 10-day countdown so that, when an attending physician is unwilling to respect a patient’s directive or family’s decision to choose life-sustaining treatment, “treatment necessary to prevent the patient’s death” will be provided until the patient can be transferred to a different care facility that will honor their medical decisions. This proposed change in the law is both reasonable and compassionate. It also acknowledges the unalienable right to life of every human person. 

The underlying flaw in TADA is that it ignores the patient as a person with a story and a desire to live. Rather, the patient is conceived of as a consumer of healthcare resources. This way of dehumanizing patients extinguishes empathy. As “consumer,” the patient who wants to live is found “guilty” of having an insufficient “quality of life,” resource wasting, or being a burden on others by a committee of strangers. During one ethics committee meeting I attended, a physician indicated to the patient’s mother that she would be better off if her daughter died instead of having to care for her, possibly for many years! 

A patient’s family members have a bond with the patient, so it is more probable that their decision will be motivated by authentic love rather than ulterior motives. Up against a room full of “experts” advocating for cessation of treatment, the family is generally ill-equipped and offered little opportunity to defend their desire that their loved one be given a chance to live a few more days, weeks, months, or possibly even years. Eliminating the 10-day countdown and requiring treatment until transfer will give patients that chance. And that is all we ask.

I respectfully ask each Senator on this committee to vote “yes” on SB 917. Thank you.