My Fair Lady has always been one of my favorite movies. I thought of it in 2011 when the drought which had already afflicted South Texas for three years was about to enter its fourth year. I remembered Eliza Doolittle’s explanation of her aunt’s illness, “She were near done in by gin!” I thought I am about to be ‘done in’ as a rancher by this terrible drought. Over the years I had had several inquiries from realtors asking if I were interested in selling the ranch. I called the one who was most persistent and gave the listing. By the end of the year the ranch was sold and I had until February 28 to move all the animals off the ranch. Some I sold and some I gave away to friends. When we closed the sale on February 28, 2012 I returned to the house owned by the Diocese on Ocean Drive in Corpus Christi that I had kept while I worked the ranch.
Now most of my time was devoted to helping reform the current Texas Advance Directive Law, most recently fighting the passage of Senate Bill 303 in the Texas Legislature. For several decades the State has had a law in effect that regulated the use of advance directives in cases of critically or terminally ill patients in hospitals. It is a badly defective law. It gave to ethics committees in hospitals the right to terminate care and it only gave the surrogates of a patient ten days to find another health care facility or the hospital would “pull the plug” on the patient. Most hospitals in Texas belong to the Texas Hospital Association. At times it functions like a “gentleman’s club” in which there is a tacit agreement that one hospital will not embarrass another hospital. Consequently it was difficult, if not impossible to transfer a patient from one hospital to another in ten days. The pro-life activists in the State pushed for a revision of the advance directives statute that would increase the time allotted to transfer the patient to another hospital, among other patient protections.
As often happens, the liberal Representatives and Senators in the Texas Legislature proposed SB303 according to their own liberal agenda in an attempt to reform current law, but not in positive steps forward.. The pro-life activists in the State immediately rallied in opposition to SB303. Much to their (and my) amazement, the bishops of Texas speaking through The Texas Catholic Conference supported the passage of SB303 as introduced. The battle was joined.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, many years ago had written that national episcopal conferences are dangerous. He wrote that sometimes the bureaucracy or staff of a conference would come to have too much influence over the bishops and the bishops, like sheep, would be led to their slaughter. What the Cardinal wrote about national episcopal conferences was true also of the Texas Catholic Conference. The staff of the Conference had always been liberal. The first Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference was Monsignor John McCarthy, later Bishop of Austin. There is probably not a more liberal bishop in Texas than Bishop John McCarthy. The Conference was connected for years to Saint Edwards University in Austin, a very liberal University in the most liberal city in the State of Texas.
During all my years as a member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference I had ample opportunity to see Cardinal Ratzinger’s observation validated. Also, in the Texas Catholic Conference I had ample opportunity to observe that it is only on rare occasions that the body of bishops will reject a proposal or opinion of the Conference’s staff. I doubt very much that any bishop-member of the TCC had actually read SB303, despite many Catholic patient advocates, legislators, and pro-life activists writing to them about the specific dangers of the nuanced language in SB303. I had plowed through it and Kassi Dee Marks, and appellate attorney did a detailed analysis of SB303 which she shared with me. I suspect that following the usual procedure the bishops would have received and accepted the analysis of SB303 prepared by the staff of The Texas Catholic Conference. Perhaps that reliance on staff would be acceptable in many matters, but not in the matters of life or death.
I along with other pro-life activists had a good working relationship with Governor Rick Perry. We explained to him in clear legal and moral theology terms the dangerous provisions in SB303. He listened, did his own analysis consulted with his staff, and expressed his opposition to key legislators who were instrumental in stopping the legislation in the House. SB303 passed the State Senate and was set for a hearing in the House late in the 2013 Legislative Session. During this saga, the Bishop of Austin, speaking for the bishops of Texas visited the Governor and asked him not to veto the bill. Governor Perry, knowing that I was totally opposed to the bill asked Bishop Vasquez, “Are all the bishops of Texas in favor of SB303?” Bishop Vasquez replied, “All except one old retired guy.” This old, retired guy is grateful to Governor Perry for help in stopping the passage of SB303. The next session of the Texas Legislature will be in the Spring of 2015 and “this old retired guy” will again join with the pro-life activists (if I am still alive) in opposing the revived version of that anti-life, anti-patient bad legislation.
I suspect that part of the problem of the liberalism of the staff of The Texas Catholic Conference lies in its proximity to the Capitol of Texas. There is much that is positive in that proximity and much that is negative. One of the negatives is that the staff of the Texas Catholic Conference, especially its Executive Director, is subject to lobbying by special moneyed interests such as The Texas Hospital Association, The Texas Medical Association, big pharma and others who have a financial interest in the outcome of legislative battles over specific legislative proposals. Proposals that sometimes verge on being immoral.
The other area of interest that has kept me busy in my retirement is fighting the growing transplantation of human organs industry. The Church is in favor of transplanting human organs under certain conditions. Most compassionate people would agree that it is good to save one person’s life if the organs of another person who has died can be salvaged and transplanted. The problem lies in determining the death of the donor.
It is well established that after Dr. Christiaan Barnard had successfully made the first transplantation of a human heart from one man to another in 1966 there was a rush by the medical profession to make the transplantation of human organs, even the human heart, commonplace. The problem was and is that the human organ being transplanted must be alive, i.e. it must come from a human body in which the process of necrosis, deterioration, has not begun.
In 1967 a conference was called at Harvard University to study the problem: how could human organs be taken from a human body that was not yet dead by the standard definition of death as cessation of heart and lung activity. The solution arrived at in the Harvard Conference was, well lets change the definition of death to the cessation of brain activity and that way we can keep the heart and lungs functioning while we remove the organs from the donor. Brain death became the standard definition of death and the medical profession succeeded in getting all the state legislatures to accept in in their statutes.
The problem with brain death I learned in the Conference I hosted in Corpus Christi in 2005, according to one of the participants who is a neurosurgeon, who for a long time had engaged in the transplantation of human organs, was that he finally came to realize that the donors of the organs were not really dead, he was killing the donor by removing the donor’s vital organs. This neurosurgeon stopped participating in organ transplantation where the patient was declared “brain dead.”
The human organ transplantation industry has grown and grown and is now a monster. The money to be made by doctors and hospitals runs now in the trillions of dollars worldwide. It is a monster that seems impossible to control. A heart transplant alone can cost up to $1,000,000.00. When that kind of money is involved, morality and ethics lose their importance, they are no longer considered part of the medical care equation.
I was particularly concerned about the case of Marlise Munoz, a comatose pregnant woman in Fort Worth, who was euthanized over the protest of pro-life activists who argued that that she should be allowed to live until her child was born. Doctors in Germany did a survey and documented 21 cases where pregnant women in a PVS state were successfully delivered of their child. In Marlise’s case concern for her suffering caused people to be unconcerned about the suffering of the unborn child in her womb when she was euthanized.
In whatever time God allows me on this earth I have made the commitment to stay in the fight. I ask Our Lord Jesus Christ, and his Blessed Mother to assist me.