FAQs About Powers of Attorney and Directives

Can Physicians in Texas Withhold Life Support Against Patient’s Wishes?

by Rania Combs

Most of the time, Directive to Physicians are signed by
patients who do not want their lives prolonged by life-sustaining treatments; however,
sometimes the situation is reversed.

For example, a Texas
Tribune article
last year featured the case of a 9 year-old girl whose
parents wanted their daughter to continue receiving life-sustaining treatment despite
doctor’s recommendation that life support be withheld.

The case was a sad one. Payton Summons had cancer and was hospitalized
after a large tumor in her chest started to restrict her breathing. Despite
emergency treatment, she suffered brain damage, and a test determined she did
not have any brain activity. Doctors declared her brain dead and recommended
that life support be withdrawn.

Her parents disagreed. Although Payton was on a ventilator, her
organs were still functioning, and her parents wanted to give her time to recover.
Her parents sought and were awarded an emergency court order to temporarily
block the hospital from shutting off the ventilator for a couple of weeks while
they attempted to find another facility that would treat her and maintain her
on life support. Sadly, Payton died while on life support when her heart stopped

A Texas law allows physicians the ability to withhold life-sustaining
treatment against a patient’s (or his or her surrogate’s) objections when the
attending physicians believes continuing life support is medically futile and life-sustaining
treatment would exacerbate or extend a patient’s suffering.

If a physician determines that continuing life-sustaining
treatment is not medically appropriate, the case is submitted for review by an
ethics or medical committee. The patient and/or the patient’s family, as the
case may be, are entitled to attend.

If the committee determines that life support is medically
futile, the patient or family members are given 10 days to find another physician
or facility willing to provide the requested treatment. If a transfer can be
arranged, the patient would be transferred to the new facility at the patient’s

If no facility can be found, life sustaining treatment can
be withheld after the expiration of ten days, unless a court of law grants an

It is very rare that Texas law results in a patient being
denied life-sustaining treatment against the wishes of the patient or the patient’s
surrogate. Most of the time, like In Payton’s case, the patient passes
naturally while a court action is proceeding.

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