Fudging the facts on Bush's end-of-life record

Under a law signed by Gov. George W. Bush, doctors in Texas can cease life support for a patient regardless of the family's wishes. Scott McClellan just won't admit it.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 22, 2005 7:26PM (EST)

The Bush White House values nothing more than consistency. Other politicians can flip this way and flop that way, but George W. Bush never errs, never wavers and always stays the course -- or at least that's what the administration would have you believe.

How else can we explain Scott McClellan's deceitful spin on the Texas futile care statute then-Gov. George W. Bush signed into law in 1999? As we noted yesterday, the 1999 measure allowed hospitals in Texas to pull the plug on patients when further care would be futile -- regardless of the desires of the patient or his family. Asked yesterday whether Bush's signature on that bill conflicted with his role in the Terri Schiavo case, McClellan snapped back: "That's absolutely incorrect. The legislation he signed is consistent with his views. You know, this is a complex case and I don't think such uninformed accusations offer any constructive ways to address this matter."

In Bush's defense, the bill he signed in 1999 was friendlier to the "pro-life" interests than a version he had vetoed previously. In the 1999 iteration of the legislation, doctors seeking to cease futile life-support measures have to get the approval of a hospital ethics committee, give the patient's family 10 days of notice and help the family, if the family so desires, to find another medical facility that would continue the life support the doctors wished to end. Presumably, that's what McClellan meant when he said yesterday that the 1999 law "provided new protections for patients."

But when McClellan said the 1999 legislation "was there to help ensure that actions were being taken that were in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family," he crossed the line from fact to fantasy. The law provides some safeguards to patients and their families, but it ultimately leaves the life-or-death decision in the hands of the medical community. Wanda Hudson learned about that first hand last week, when -- over her objections but in compliance with the 1999 law -- doctors removed a breathing tube from her six-month-old baby. The child died a few minutes later.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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