Feeding Tubes and Futility in Texas

We Can End the End-of-Life Impasse in the Texas Legislature.

By Jacqueline C. Harvey, Ph.D. 

Jacqueline C. Harvey

Jacqueline C. Harvey

After five consecutive sessions of bitter battles over end-of-life bills, the Texas Legislature is finally poised to pass the first reform to the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA) in twelve years. An issue that created uncanny adversaries out of natural allies and equally odd bedfellows has finally found common ground in H.B. 3074: an act that simply prohibits doctor-imposed euthanasia by starvation and dehydration. Since H.B. 3074 includes only those provisions and language that all major organizations are on record as having deemed acceptable in previous legislative sessions, there is finally hope of ending the end-of-life impasse in the Texas Capitol. 

Many people are surprised to learn that Texas law allows physicians to forcibly remove a feeding tube against the will of the patient and their family. In fact, there is a greater legal penalty for failing to feed or water an animal than for a hospital to deny a human being food and water through a tube. This is because there is no penalty whatsoever for a healthcare provider who wishes to deny artificially administered nutrition and hydration (ANH). According to Texas Health and Safety Code, “every living dumb creature” is legally entitled to access to suitable food and water. Denying an animal food and water, such as a case this January in San Antonio, is punishable by civil fines up to $10,000 and criminal penalties up to two years in jail per offense. Yet Texas law allows health care providers to forcibly deny food and water from human beings - what they would not be able to legally do to their pet cat. And healthcare providers are immune from civil and criminal penalties deny of food and water to human beings as long as they follow the current statutory process which is sorely lacking in safeguards. 

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