What the End-of-Life Bill Really Does

TMA Testimony by Robin Watson, MD

House Public Health Committee
Senate Bill 303
May 13, 2013

Good evening Madame Chair, Representative King, and members of the Committee. Thank you for hearing my comments.

My name is Dr. Rob Watson. I am a general surgeon in Round Rock. I am here today testifying FOR Senate Bill 303 on behalf of the 47,000-plus physician and medical student members of the Texas Medical Association. I strongly believe that I am also here today to speak on behalf of our patients.

As physicians, Doctor Sheffield and I have a unique perspective and role with you, our patients. Both of us, and every colleague I know, genuinely want to help the people who entrust themselves to our care.

As physicians, we have a moral obligation to put the best interest of each individual patient above those of our own, above those of any hospital or health care system, and above any insurance company or other outside party.

Putting our patient’s interest first sometimes means providing comfort care and allowing the patient to die a calm, peaceful, and honorable death. In the most cases, the patient, the physician, and the family agree on this course of action.

Unfortunately, “most” does not mean “all.” There are times, when, in our professional opinion based on science and years of experience, more care means worse care … when more care means unnecessarily painful care … when more care may actually hasten death … when providing more care would violate our oath to put our patients first.

And there are times when patients – or, more often, families – disagree with our opinion. The family certainly has that right. It is a common and perfectly natural position to say, “We must do everything we can for our mother.”

When we disagree, neither of us automatically gets our way. Physicians are not forced to abandon our professional ethics and extensive training and experience. Family members are not forced to abandon hope.

Since 1999, Texans have been fortunate to have a very good law authored by Representative Coleman. Currently an independent hospital ethics committee is empowered with the responsibility to navigate these differences. And in cases where the ethics committee agrees with the physician, the law provides families some time to find another hospital to care for their loved one. Nothing in law limits the liberty of a family of moving their loved one to another facility. Thus the allegations calling medical ethics committee’s death panels is ludicrous and political rhetoric.

Today I am here in support of a bill that will take that 1999 law and make it better.

I am surprised by those who oppose Senate Bill 303. Surely they aren’t opposed to what SB 303 actually does.

Let me briefly review what the bill DOES to make the current law better for patients:

It does provide MORE TIME AND HELP in the ethics committee.

It does CODIFY the ethics committee’s commitment to treat all patients equally without regard to permanent physical or mental disabilities, age, gender, religion, ethnic background, or financial/insurance status.

It does EMPOWER patients and families to object to the use of a “do not attempt resuscitation” order.

And it does give families MORE TIME to find another hospital to care for their loved one.

And finally, it also ensures the moral conscience of a physician is not compromised by government-mandated medical acts. Just because I chose to practice medicine does not mean I can be held hostage by a family to torture a patient.

Contrary to what you may have heard and been told, Senate Bill 303 – the House Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 303 – does all of the good things I have identified, and more.

As difficult as these end-of-life conflicts may be, can you imagine how much harder it would be on everyone involved if they took place in a courtroom – perhaps months after someone we love has died a prolonged and painful death?

What the bill DOES NOT do is take these difficult end-of-life discussions and move them from the patient’s bedside to the courtroom. This subject needs reason and logic, not vitriol and propaganda designed to inspire hate and conflict.

I don’t think that’s what any of us – the physicians I represent, our patients, or their families – would want.

Thank you very much for your time. I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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Last Updated On

May 03, 2018