Bush Laws in Schiavo Case, Texas at Odds


Associated Press | March 22, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The federal law President Bush signed to prolong Terri Schiavo's life in Florida appears to conflict with a Texas law he signed as governor, attorneys familiar with the legislation said Monday.

The 1999 Advance Directives Act in Texas allows for a patient's surrogate to make end-of-life decisions and spells out how to proceed if a hospital or other health provider disagrees with a decision to maintain or halt life-sustaining treatment.

If a doctor refuses to honor a decision, the case goes before a medical committee. If the committee agrees with the doctor, the guardian or surrogate has 10 days to agree or seek treatment elsewhere.

Thomas Mayo, an associate law professor at Southern Methodist University who helped draft the Texas law, said that if the Schiavo case had happened in Texas, her husband would have been her surrogate decision-maker. Because both he and her doctors were in agreement, life support would have been discontinued.

The Texas law does not include a provision for dealing with conflicts among family members who disagree with the surrogate decision-maker - as has happened in the Schiavo case - although in practice hospital ethics committees would try to resolve such disputes, he said.

The Texas law, Mayo said, tends to keep such cases out of court, allowing life-support decisions to be made privately. However, within the last month two Houston cases went to court. One case resulted in a baby being removed from life support; he died soon afterward. The other led to the transfer of an elderly man to a nursing home.

Bruce Howell, a private health law attorney in Dallas who was involved in updates to the state law in 2003, agreed with Mayo that Bush's signing of the federal law appears to be inconsistent with his actions as governor.

``These are incredibly private decisions,'' Howell said. ``I would hope that this case does not result in federal law overriding what I think was carefully and incredibly well intentionally thought out.''

The White House said Monday the law allowing a federal court to intervene in the Schiavo case was narrowly tailored and not intended as a precedent for Congress to step into such battles.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the claim that Bush's signature on the Texas law conflicts with his action Monday. ``The legislation he signed is consistent with his views,'' McClellan said.

Terri Schiavo Archive