THE QUALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAINED, CANNOT BE FORCED, IT MUST BE PROTECTED BY STATUTE

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Francis hands a copy of the bull of indiction of the Holy Year of Mercy to a Vatican official (AP)
Pope Francis proclaims the HOLY YEAR OF MERCY on Sunday, April 12, 2015

THE QUALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAINED

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It drops as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesses him that gives and him that takes:
‘It is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein sits the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power does then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore,
Though justice be thy concern, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer does teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

(Hat tip William Shakespeare)

 

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On Wednesday, April 15, 2015, the Texas House Committee will hold a public hearing on HB3074 a bill introduced by Representative Ron Springer to correct some of the things wrong with the Texas Advance Directives Statute, Section 166.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.  This will be the latest of several attempts to modify that Statute that have been made over the past sixteen years.  Most have failed to pass the Legislature.  The last attempt was the really bad SB303 that was defeated in the Legislature in 2013.
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EVERYONE AND ANYONE WHO HAS A CONCERN ABOUT THE LIVES OF SERIOUSLY ILL PATIENTS THREATENED BY THE THIRD PATH (PASSIVE EUTHANASIA) OF THE CULTURE OF DEATH SHOULD MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO GO TO AUSTIN AND SIGN UP TO TESTIFY IN FAVOR OF CHANGES TO THE PROPOSED HB3074, OR IF UNABLE TO GO TO AUSTIN, TO WRITE, EMAIL OR PHONE YOUR CONCERNS TO REPRESENTATIVE SPRINGER AND THE COMMITTEE.
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Why is this important?  Because, even if a patient is conscious, able to feed himself, walk, or pay for his own care, Texas law authorizes hospitals and physicians to override the medical decisions of a patient and remove care after providing ten days notice.  Such withdrawal and denial of care can and has sped the death of patients and is covered with complete legal immunity for the doctors and hospitals.

Such legal immunity is, to some extent necessary in order to protect their financial well-being.  Justice requires it.  But justice cannot be absolute.  It must be tempered with mercy.  Patients and their families have rights and those rights cannot be arbitrarily violated by hospitals and doctors under the cover of flawed State statutes.
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In our economic system, in our health care system, money is a powerful factor in every aspect of the operation of the systems.  Using money as a lever big and powerful corporations, foundations and individuals are able to exert inordinate influence on individuals, organizations and institutions.  The large pharmaceutical corporations for example, by their rebates to doctors and hospitals can influence the decision making of doctors and  hospitals.  Similarly, their financial contributions to the reelection campaigns of legislators can influence how they vote on particular pieces of proposed legislation.  Also, their contributions to certain pro-life organizations can influence whether those organizations truly support pro-life legislation or instead support flawed bills like SB303 and HB3074.
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Patients and their families cannot employ such financial leverage.  On the contrary, if it were not for pro-life organizations like Texas Right to Life over 100 patients threatened with passive euthanasia in Texas in the past few decades would never have survived the efforts of doctors and hospital ethics committees to terminate their lives.  While Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Catholic Conference support HB 3037 in its original form, Texas Right to Life is the ONLY advocacy organization that actually helps patients and families find new physicians or different care settings and therefore opposes HB3074 in its present form.  Those other two organizations seem to be more concerned with providing legal protection for doctors and hospitals than for the well-being of patients.  Texas Right to Life, on the other hand, has accompanied over one hundred families to the hospital ethics committee meetings at which the fate of their ailing loved one is determined.
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Although reforms and patient protections are needed either through incremental steps or total repeal of Section 166.046 of the 1999 law, HB 3074 OFFERS NEITHER A STEP FORWARD NOR ANY PATIENT PROTECTIONS.  In fact, HB 3074 offered by Representative Drew Springer (R-Gainesville) further strengthens the hospital committee’s authority by codifying broad circumstances in which food and water can be denied and withdrawn.  Denying food and water, nutrition and hydration, is the usual way to ensure the death of the patient with minimal exposure to legal liability as compared with the other way of ensuring the death of the patient, excess use of sedatives or narcotics.

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I unequivocally believe that food and water, called “artificially administered nutrition and hydration” or “AANH” in HB 3074, should always be provided to the patient unless doing so is physiologically ineffective.  In other words, if the patient’s body can no longer process the AANH or if the fluid is collecting in his abdomen, then there would be no moral obligation or medical reason to continue that treatment or any treatment that is not achieving the intended curative or restorative purpose.

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The Texas Catholic Conference in 1991 supported the withdrawal of AANH from comatose patients and I opposed the withdrawal.  In 2004 Saint Pope John Paul II stated that water and food, even when administered artificially, are “a natural means of preserving life, not a medical procedure.  Therefore, their use must be considered ordinary and appropriate and as such, morally obligatory.”  Saint John Paul II’s  opposition to the withdrawal of AANH was stated in almost the same words I had used 13 years earlier.  Why the Texas Catholic Conference should still be favoring hospitals and doctors withdrawing AANH from patients 24 years after their 1991 mistake defies comprehension.
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HB 3074 takes an approach different, hollow approach from that supported by Saint Pope John Paul II, and offers no real patient protections or steps forward toward positive reform of the 1999 Statute.  The exceptions under which AANH can be withdrawn outlined in HB 3074 are built on a quality of life ethic championed by ethicists of the Proportionalism moral theology school condemned by Saint Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor,  and if passed, in its present form,  the bill would not save one single patient from dying of dehydration or starvation.

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In opening the Holy Year of Mercy on Sunday, April 12, Pope Francis exclaimed, “May the balm of mercy reach everyone.”  Here is Texas we must fight to see that any reform of the Texas Advance Directives statute balances the legal protection a statue offers doctors and hospitals with protection for patients and their families in making decisions affecting treatment of seriously ill patients.
Deus lo vult!  God wills it!

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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