Sunday, June 21, 2015

Texas bill is model legislation to prevent Death by Dehydration.

By Dr Jacqueline Harvey

Governor Abbott signed
HB 3074 into law.
On Friday, June 12, 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott overturned 16 years of legal forced dehydration and starvation in Texas by signing House Bill 3074. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) was present for the historic moment and presented a commendation to Representative Drew Springer on his skillful passage of this landmark legislation, and EPC briefly explained the significance of this bi-partisan, unanimously-supported, model disability rights bill. HB 3074 is a critical first step in EPC’s national and worldwide efforts to restore the rights of persons with disabilities to receive nutrition and hydration (ANH). Therefore this vital win in Texas is anticipated to save lives not just within the Lone Star State but throughout the United States and even globally as EPC prepares to explore this issue with standing at the United Nations.

Rep. Drew Springer
receives EPC award.
Under Rep. Springer’s leadership, HB 3074 moved Texas from the one state to allow healthcare providers to remove food and water in any circumstance to joining five other states that explicitly protect patients in need of ANH. The Texas law was an anomaly in that it allowed the medical community authority to remove ANH in any circumstance. In contrast, five states have passed laws to ensure that food and water is not forcibly withheld by a healthcare provider to kill a patient. Now that HB 3074 is signed into law, Texas no longer ranks as the worst state for patients in need of ANH but ranks among the best.

EPC believes that HB 3074 is model legislation. Representative Springer brokered an unprecedented compromise that cleared a 12-year stalemate on this issue. HB 3074 began in committee with opposition, but Springer was able to find language agreeable to all parties and foster unity to enable the bill to be passed in all committees and chambers of both House and Senate with no opposition.

The universal agreement on the wording in HB 3074 across various stakeholder groups and unanimous passage from the Texas House of Representatives as well and the Texas Senate indicates broad, bi-partisan support that EPC expects to cultivate nationwide. Furthermore, EPC hopes to employ the language from HB 3074 to reform Connecticut law, the only other state that grants healthcare providers authority to starve and dehydrate patients in some circumstances (terminal illness and permanent unconsciousness). Moreover, the broad bi-partisan support and unanimous passage of HB 3074 through both chambers of the Texas Legislature indicates that this model legislation has significant promise of passage in a variety of political environments, red states and blue states alike.

EPC believes this law is also model legislation to stop attempts in states attempting to make it easier for decision-makers to starve and dehydrate patients. Currently a lawmaker in New York has filed Senate Bill 4794 to allow the removal of food and water from patients even when it is unknown and can not be determined if the patient would want to die by starvation and dehydration. The standard to remove ANH was once “clear and convincing evidence” set in the Nancy Cruzan Supreme Court decision, that the patient would want food and water removed. But this is being struck from the law to allow others to determine if dying by dehydration is in the patient’s best interest. It is clear by federal attempts to intervene during the dehydration of Terri-Schindler Schiavo (as well as the many states making efforts like Texas to define ANH as basic care) that denying food and water to a person with a disability is an affront to our basic sense of human justice. EPC believes we can overturn the precedent set by Connecticut, the final hurdle now that HB 3074 is law in Texas.

Nations look to the United States to set precedents on human rights. Food and water is among the most basic and this battle extends beyond America. There was Nancy Cruzan’s 12-day dehydration case that approved this method of euthanasia in 1990, Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s 13-day dehydration death in 2005 and as we speak there is Vincent Lambert in France whom, like Terri, is conscious but due to a disability is simply unable to speak. Like Terri, the courts have ordered him to die by dehydration.

In 2009, Italy faced a similar controversy over a woman named Eluana Englaro who died as Italy’s Health Minister debated a bill to save her life. In India, Aruna Shanbaug recently passed away from pneumonia after the courts rejected attempts to remove her food and water to cause her death by dehydration. Around the world, the simple ability to swallow separates persons with disabilities from a particularly long and painful death by dehydration. Fortunately, EPC has recently received standing at the United Nations. EPC is committed to promoting the provision of food and water as a fundamental human right.

The passage of HB 3074 overturned the most egregious obstacle in our path toward establishing food and water as a basic human right in the United States and throughout the world.

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