Texas Alliance for Life Dives onto its Own Sword, Should Die on It

by Peter Amos Cohen

Recently, Texas Alliance for Life (TAL) lobbied hard to defeat Senate Bill 2089 in Texas, a bill sponsored by Texas Right to Life (TRL). Senate Bill 2089 was to repeal the 10 day rule in current law, which is named Texas Advance Directive Act (TADA).

The leader of TAL, Dr. Joe Pojman, is a disgruntled former member of Texas Right to Life. He broke away from Texas Right to Life to found a new “pro-life” group which was to be the anti-conservative “pro-life” group, or Texas Alliance for Life (TAL). The problem is that its anti-conservatism has compromised its pro-life stance from its inception. TAL has defined itself in opposition to or in competition (not cooperation) with TRL. It has made a mission out of opposing TRL initiatives, usually on the basis of an alleged “legal imprudrence” (e.g. “this will get struck down by a higher court”), sometimes even going so far as to testify in the Texas Congress side by side with the likes of Planned Parenthood against TRL legal initiatives. Since Texas Right to Life is the oldest, most well established pro-life group, one would think that opposition to it by a newer pro-life movement would entail cutting-off the branch that it sits on, since members of the pro-life movement must be concerned with unity and unity necessarily requires that the newer and future growth in the movement would be in harmony with the former, past foundations. Yet TAL has successfully thrown out lifelines to the likes of the Texas Hospital Association (THA), the Texas Medical Association (TMA), and the Office of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB), with big promises of being able to deliver them into the hands of each other, thereby providing a service to each.

What does the TCCB get? The TCCB gets remotely included in some of the policy deliberations of the THA ad TMA through the brokerage of Pojman and members of the office of the TCCB get to maintain their socialist/paternalistic/patriarchal leanings (failing to make the proper distinction between ecclesiastical and political governance). While I am all in favor of secular authority bending to give ecclesiastical institutions a voice in the guidance of moral matters, I am not in favor of Churches compromising themselves in order to gain that voice. That is pharisaism, plain and simple.     

What does the THA and TMA get? To these big secular powers, by having the name of the TCCB on their initiatives, they can nullify much of the pro-life opposition when they act against life and on behalf of their monetary interests.

Thus does Joe Pojman call the TCCB and the THA/TMA into a dirty bed for a disgusting mé·nage à trois. And thus does Joe Pojman survive by appealing to certain standing powers, while fracturing the unity and political force of the pro-life movement. Hence, his nickname, “Dirty Joe.”

While Dirty Joe has usually opposed TRL on the basis of legal imprudence, he recently claimed that their initiative, SB 2089, was anti-life. He supported the 10 day TADA law, against SB 2089. In doing so, Dirty Joe was true to his dirty form. What was his argument?

It was a compound of two things. First, TAL’s argument from doctors conscience rights is the most ridiculous argument. It’s a terrible misunderstanding of conscience rights. As Bishop Mulvey of Corpus Christi taught (at a conference in Houston), the “holy trinity” of medical decision making is 1) the patient, 2) the doctor, and 3) the hospital. All three must work together cooperatively. Current TADA law fails to protect the balance of patient autonomy and physician conscience protection (traditional to Church teaching) by giving, after 10 days, sweeping permission for doctors and hospitals to act without patient consent in end-of-life care, once the doctors and hospitals agree among themselves that certain circumstances are present, making medical care “unnecessary” or “inappropriate.” Informed consent of the patient is the final moral principle in medicine that is somewhat universally in place. It is also the patient’s conscience rights. TAL’s recent push will contribute to even its loss.

Nobody wants doctors and hospitals to provide whimsical treatment, and if his conscience dictates the doctor should leave the medical relationship. But medical decision making power should not be placed solely in the hands of the doctors and hospitals. Where to place medical decision making power is a different proposition from doctor’s conscience rights. Contrary to TAL, the doctor and hospital should not have sweeping power to eliminate the patient’s conscience rights (informed consent), but they should persuade the patient/family/surrogate of the appropriate medical course of action. In short, educate. Do not act unilaterally. This part of TAL’s argument plays into the socialist tendencies of TAL’s base, since it treats people as incapable of being educated for self-governance. Rather than rule themselves, people instead must be ruled by “experts.”    

The second part of TAL’s argument is that if patient consent is included in end-of-life medical decision making, that families will unintentionally harm their loved one’s by opting for unnecessary medical procedures. I grant that this may happen, in theory.  But it is asinine to make a law to prevent it. As the old saying goes, “hard cases make bad laws.” One should not take an extreme case, where the family truly cannot be properly educated to allow a natural death, and make policy based on it as if it is normative. The hospitals and doctors also can abuse end-of-life medical care as is evident from the recent case of Carolyn Jones ( .    

In reality, the 10 day rule is not an expression of respect for the conscience rights of doctors or of care for the patient. That is a made up argument coming from the prostitution of Catholic thought by a TAL, a pro-life group that is happy to be used to mop the floor by the pro-death powers that be — as if they really care beyond the use. If we were in the Middle Ages, where the Church really had some control and coud oversee the actual use of this authority, then I might grant such paternalistic authority. At that time, maybe medical professionals might actually be formed properly to make the right decision. Proper formation is no longer the norm, however. While it is not perfect and may be abused, self-governance (informed consent in medical matters) is a last safeguard. The 10 day rule is about doctor’s consciences and patient care only in the minds of a very small group of people trying to be both socialist (which is by definition secular) and Catholic, who are only included in certain groups because their support of the 10 day rule will confuse the pro-life lobby.

Let’s be serious: the 10 day rule is a straight expression of the care rationing, death panel, medical utilitarian, bureaucratic mentality of Obamacare. By arguing for it, TAL offered a pro-life facade to pro-death legislation. It also lured the TCCB into prostituting itself to shill for the secular powers against life. TAL thereby dove onto its own sword. Having revealed yet again that it lacks a principled commitment to life, TAL should remain on its sword and die off. By all accounts, Joe Pojman is schmoozer. It would be good for his soul and for the pro-life movement if he would subject himself and use the talents he does have in the service of someone with principles. As Clint Eastwood in the character of Harry Callahan said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

About abyssum

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