- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

President Bush, who is championing the right of Terri Schiavo’s parents to decide whether her feeding tube should be reinserted, signed a Texas bill in 1999 giving spouses top priority in making such decisions.

Hours after his early-morning signing of federal legislation sending the Schiavo case to federal court, Mr. Bush on Monday praised the expedited congressional action and said it gives the Florida woman’s parents “another opportunity to save their daughter’s life.”

In siding with Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, who have been in a prolonged battle with her husband about removing the feeding tube that has kept her alive for 15 years, Mr. Bush ran counter to a measure he signed into law in Texas in 1999.

The state law says that in cases in which a patient has not signed a directive about life-prolonging care, the patient’s spouse — unless there is a court-appointed guardian — makes the call. The patient’s parents are listed third, behind “reasonably available adult children” and ahead of “the patient’s nearest living relative.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat, noted that the Texas law also allows caregivers to withhold treatment “at the point that futility has been reached and there is no longer any hope of survival or of additional health care measures being used to sustain life.”

Mrs. Wasserman-Schultz said Mr. Bush’s signing of the Texas law “seems to conflict with his position today.”

At a Monday event in Tucson, Ariz., Mr. Bush gave brief remarks about the Schiavo case but did not mention the Texas law.

“This is a complex case with serious issues,” he said, “but in extraordinary circumstances like this it is wise to always err on the side of life.”

The White House on Monday defended Mr. Bush’s signing of the 1999 state statute. Spokesman Scott McClellan said that law provided additional protections for patients facing death after hospitals decide that treatment is futile. Before 1999, some Texas hospitals were giving only 72-hour notice before ending such treatment.

The new law set a 10-day period during which patients’ representatives can seek a transfer to a facility that will continue the treatment.

Dallas lawyer Tom Mayo, who helped draft the 1999 law, said the Schiavo case would have reached the same result under the Texas statute.

“In Texas, our law would protect the decision that Michael Schiavo made, with her physicians, to remove the artificial nutrition hydration just the way Florida law does,” said Mr. Mayo, associate professor of law at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.

The Texas law was intended to control in cases in which medical teams and patients’ representatives disagree on treatment. In the Schiavo case, the medical team and Mrs. Schiavo’s husband agreed there was no hope of improvement in her condition.

The Texas law, as in Florida, allows other family members to go to state court to challenge decisions about withholding care.

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