By Trey Blanton
A miracle has taken place deep in the heart of Texas. On Wednesday, Carolyn Jones, 61, was transported out of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital in Houston in the dead of night, after having survived remarkably for two days without medical treatment.
"My family is finally able to have some breathing room," said Carolyn's daughter Kina in comments to Church Militant. "For my mom, it is literal."
Carolyn had been a patient of Memorial since Nov. 2018 after suffering a stroke in December the previous year, requiring her to receive treatment at various rehabilitative centers before landing at Memorial. Carolyn's condition necessitated use of a ventilator in order to assist her with breathing.
On May 4, Memorial convened an "ethics panel" and determined it was in Carolyn's best interest to be taken off the ventilator, denying her basic life-sustaining care. The decision was made possible thanks to the Texas Advanced Directive Act (TADA).
Texas Advanced Directive Act (TADA)
TADA was passed into law in 1999 in order to prevent imprudent liability lawsuits against physicians and hospitals for the death of patients. TADA set a codified list of criteria for hospitals to meet in order to determine end-of-life decisions.
Under TADA, hospitals must convene an ethics "consultation process," in which the family of a patient must be given 48 hours' notice to attend. The family is allowed to consult a private physician and lawyer, but it is up to the discretion of the ethics panel if they will allow the family, or their representative, to address the panel. Hospitals are not required to listen to the desires of the patient, the patient's family or the patient's representative.
After making the decision to end a patient's life, the hospital's only obligation is to provide a patient's family 10 days, including weekends, to find a hospital willing to continue treatment — an incredibly short amount of time. If the family fails to find another center willing to take in the patient, then the patient faces in many cases inevitable death.
Carolyn's Fight for Survival
Carolyn's husband Donald and daughter Kina were allowed one last Mother's Day together, before removing Carolyn from her ventilator the next day on May 13. Donald had spent the 10 days after the ethics panel's decision working with Emily Cook, legal counsel for Texas Right to Life, to secure admission to a new treatment facility. Legal documents securing medical insurance for Carolyn could not be signed for approval until Thursday, May 16, at the latest, four days after the 10-day window allowed by law. The hospital was unwilling to wait that long.
Memorial Hermann Southwest removed Carolyn's ventilator on May 13, as her family watched her struggle for every breath she took. Six hours later, Carolyn was still clinging to life. Prior to an amendment added to TADA in 2017, the hospital could, and would, have also removed Carolyn from access to food and water, ensuring her rapid demise. This amendment had been lobbied for by Texas Right to Life.
After realizing Carolyn would not immediately die as the hospital expected, Texas Right to Life rallied their supporters to raise funds to secure a temporary treatment facility, buying Carolyn the time she needed to secure through the courts funding for a permanent facility.
By Tuesday, Carolyn was still alive. At that point the hospital decided to remove her from the dialysis machine, treatment she had required prior to her stroke. Hospital staff refused to remove fluid building up in her mouth, telling her family that it was their responsibility to do that now. Memorial also refused to allow outside medical professionals to come in to the hospital to aid Carolyn in dying with as much comfort as possible.
On Wednesday night, Texas Right to Life secured enough funding from donors to acquire the services of a private ambulance to transfer Carolyn to a temporary facility, where her access to a ventilator and dialysis treatment has been restored.
"I saw my father smile for the first time in 72 hours," Kina told Church Militant. "We could not have gotten this far without Texas Right to Life."
Senate Bill 2089
Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes has authored SB 2089 to repeal the 10-day rule under TADA. An amended version has passed the State Senate extending the 10 days to 45 — a much more reasonable time frame to find another hospital for a patient in need — and is awaiting passage in the lower House.
Texas Right to Life has lobbied aggressively for this bill, but the group has received pushback, not from Texas Democrats, but surprisingly enough from other self-styled "pro-life" organizations, and even from the Texas Catholic bishops. Lobbyists on behalf of the conference of Texas bishops have testified against any amendment that would incentivize hospitals to work with patients and their families to offer life-sustaining treatment. These Catholic lobbyists make claims about "protecting the dignity" of patients by not "prolonging their death." They advocate for this principle even in the face of patients who have stated their desire to continue living.
"I do not want my mother to die in vain," Kina told Church Militant. "I want her treatment to mean something. If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything, so call to leave a voicemail message at (512) 463-0470 and tell the Texas legislature to put SB 2089 on the calendar for Saturday for Carolyn Jones!"