Opinion

The state needs to stay out of our personal lives

What is it about conservative politicians who say they want to keep government out of our lives, but seem not to miss an opportunity to intrude into our bedrooms, doctors’ offices and hospital rooms?

There are some things the state needs to keep its nose out of, and yet, particularly when it comes to women’s health, lawmakers continue to want to make decisions that should be left to individuals, their families and/or their physicians.

Once again in Texas, a legislator has overstepped his bounds by introducing a bill that further interferes with a doctor/patient relationship, pulling the courts — and, therefore, politics — into matters where they don’t belong.

The proposed legislation stems from the tragic case of Marlise Muñoz, the 33-year-old Haltom City mother who was pregnant with her second child when she suffered a blood clot in late 2013 and was later declared brain-dead.

Her husband and parents, acting on what they said were her wishes, decided that life support should be removed, a request that officials at John Peter Smith Hospital refused to honor because of a bad Texas law (the Texas Advance Directives Act) that states “a person my not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment … from a pregnant patient.”

Muñoz was kept on life support for two more months, while the family took legal steps to have their wife and daughter treated the way she would have wanted.

And while the legal battle ensued, the family members say they painfully watched their loved one deteriorate before their eyes.

A judge eventually ruled that because Muñoz was legally dead, she should be removed from life support.

The hospital did not appeal.

And because of interference by the state, that family suffered far more than it should have.

Now state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, wants to make matters worse for future families that may find themselves in a similar situation.

He is proposing that in the case of a permanently incapacitated patient who is pregnant, an attorney must be appointed to represent the fetus to give “the pre-born child a chance to have a voice in court.”

The very suggestion offended the Muñoz family, and they have worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in drafting legislation, introduced by Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat of Austin, that would delete from the Texas Advanced Directives Act the portion that says, “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment.”

Named for Muñoz, “Marlise’s Law” is a logical proposal that would put end-of-life decisions back where they belong — with the families of the patients and their physicians.

Current state law and Krause’s position take that away from pregnant women, something ACLU representatives have pointed out as being inherently unfair, treating women like second-class citizens.

“The minute you become pregnant, you no longer have the right to decide for yourself,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas, during a news conference this month to announce “Marlise’s Law.”

Ernie Machado, Muñoz’s father, said: “She was an individual, she was a mother, she was a spouse, and she was a daughter. … She wasn’t an experiment. We wanted her to live with and die with dignity. We didn’t get that.”

Just as the Muñoz family didn’t get that, the state is trying to ensure that other families may be denied that same opportunity to die with dignity.

Krause has noted that of the two bills now before the Legislature, his is likely to be the one to pass because of the overwhelming number of Republicans and conservatives who have been elected.

He may very well be right.

But if he is, it will be another sad day for the family of Marlise Muñoz.

It will be a sad day for all the people in this state who truly would like to keep government out of their personal lives.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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