Texas Catholic Bishops Endorse Utilitarian Futile Care Theory

By Hilary White

  AUSTIN, May 3, 2007 ( – The Catholic Bishops of Texas have endorsed a utilitarian theory that allows doctors and hospital bioethics committees to refuse life-saving treatments to patients who need and request them.

  Renowned lawyer and bioethics critic Wesley J. Smith has slammed the Texas Catholic Conference for opposing a bill that would allow patients an extra ten days to find alternate care facilities for patients who have been refused care on utilitarian grounds.

  A 1999 Texas law allows doctors and hospital ethics committees to refuse life-saving treatment even if a patient or family specifically requests it. Under the law, Patients’ families who have received notice that life-saving treatment will not be offered have ten days to find alternate care facilities.

  Texas Catholic Conference spokesman, Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Diocese of Austin, said to the House Committee on Public Health, “the tradition of our Church has always taught, that a person should be allowed to die with dignity and have a peaceful death.”

  Smith writes that the bishops have missed the point and are endorsing a utilitarian principle that has endangered the lives of patients.

  Bill HB 1094 would change the 10-day window to 21 days. It would, however, allow hospitals to refuse new forms of treatment that might be needed during the waiting period. The statute would remain in place that says, “The physician and health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment.”

  Bishop Aymond testified, “We believe that that is in conformity to God’s will and that God is the one who chooses life and death. It is the teaching of the Church that we should not interfere with that. We also realize that sometimes families, through no fault of their own, are really not able to make those decisions because of their involvement, because of the emotions.”

  Smith responded to Bishop Aymond, saying, “This is little different than utilitarian bioethicists claiming that families shouldn’t be able to make such decisions because of the guilt they feel or misplaced religious belief.”

  The bishops, says Smith, have confused the legitimate option for a patient to refuse unnecessary treatment, with an existing law that allows hospitals to threaten the well-being of patients and impose the subjective opinion that a patient is not worth saving. 
  According to futile care theory the decision whether to treat is left to the doctor or bioethics committee who decide if a given treatment is worth the effort, based on the patient’s likelihood of recovery or “quality of life” issues. Elderly or brain damaged patients, Smith writes, are increasingly being refused ordinary care, such as antibiotics for infections, based on determinations of “medical futility.”

  Read Bishop Aymond’s statement:

  To respectfully express concerns to the Texas Catholic Conference:
  1625 Rutherford Lane, Building D 
  Austin, Texas, USA 

  Phone: 512-339-9882 
  Fax: 512-339-8670

  Read related coverage:
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