The battle for Texas Senate District 2 has turned a little chippy in its closing weeks. The most recent nastiness concerned a radio ad targeting incumbent Bob Deuell. The ad was the latest joust in an ongoing schism within the pro-life movement in Texas.
Deuell played a role in crafting the controversial abortion bill that has resulted in the closure of 19 clinics across Texas since last year. Deuell has the endorsement of Texas Alliance for Life. But that organization sometimes comes into conflict with Texas Right to Life, the group that produced the radio ad and the state's largest pro-life group.
The point of contention was not abortion, but end-of-life care. Deuell sponsored a bill during last year’s session that he said would have increased protections for patients in end-of-life situations. Opponents said that Deuell’s bill, Senate Bill 303, would have done just the opposite.
“The ad…said that I had turned my back on patients and the disabled,” Deuell said. “And it also said that sick people cannot trust me. That…defames me as a physician who’s practiced here in Greenville for 28 years. We felt that was way beyond the pale of political discourse and it was libelous.”
Deuell’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to area broadcast organizations who, after reviewing the specifics of the claims, agreed with Deuell, he said. Deuell’s protest was endorsed by Texas Alliance for Life, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Texas Medical Association. Those are the same organizations that endorsed Senate Bill 303, which passed in the Senate but did not in the House of Representatives.
That measure was designed to address the situation of patients for whom life-sustaining treatment would be inappropriate, ineffective and difficult for the patient to endure - in the view of their doctors. Under current law, a family has 10 days to find an alternate provider willing to administer care.
Senate Bill 303 would have increased that time to three weeks, among other changes to the process intended to assist families with negotiating through health-care systems in such situations. Deuell’s bill also would have mandated that care providers not consider a family’s ability to pay when making treatment decisions.
For Texas Right to Life, those changes weren’t enough. That organization wants families to have the final say about prolonging care, even if it means that doctors end up forced into providing treatment that they feel is medically or ethically indefensible.
Deuell’s opponent in the primary runoff election, Bob Hall, also said that families should be able to overrule doctors in all such situations.
“(Senate Bill 303) gave the appearance of improving the situation, but in every instance of improvement, it left a back door for a hospital to be able to circumvent what is generally talked about is a requirement,” Hall said. “The requirement was the hospital make a reasonable attempt … When you have something that is as loose as make a reasonable attempt, that’s not much of a firm requirement.”
Elizabeth Graham, the director of Texas Right to Life, said the bill was an expansion of involuntary euthanasia.
“We would not support any candidate who would support such a measure,” Graham said.
Jeffrey Patterson, director of the Texas Catholic Conference, wrote a letter to legislators defending those who supported Senate Bill 303.
“What was most troubling to the Texas Catholic Bishops was that the (Texas Right to Life) scorecard appears to attack those legislators who supported perhaps one of the most pro-life bills during the 83rd session,” Patterson said.
Texas Right to Life has endorsed Hall in the May 27 primary runoff election.
Correction, 11:20 a.m., May 27: The orginal version of this story characterized Texas Alliance for Life as the state's largest pro-life group. Texas Right to Life is the state's largest pro-life group. KETR regrets the error.