My name is Bishop Michael Olson and I am testifying on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops in opposition to SB 917.

The Catholic voice behind the pro-life movement does not view death as the ultimate enemy.  We view it through a lens of the inherent sanctity of human life, including life in its final stages, life that is in fact dying.

We must oppose the approach taken by this bill. Requiring indefinite medical interventions against the physician’s professional judgement is unacceptable. We strongly believe such a policy is not in the best interest of patients. It only prolongs patient suffering, artificially delaying natural death with no real benefit. It also fails to respect the conscience and professional integrity of health care providers by requiring them to indefinitely honor requests for interventions they consider unethical and harmful to patients. Catholic moral and ethical teaching does not support the concept of radical autonomy; instead, it highlights a balance between personal and professional autonomy and the common good.[1]

Pope St. John Paul II explicitly warned against views of freedom that promote absolute autonomy as serious distortions of life in society.  He pointed out that this type of promotion of self inevitably leads to the point of rejecting the autonomy of others such that, “[e]veryone is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself.”[2]  Thus, the physician has a right not to violate the moral obligation to act in the best interest of the patient when being faced by a patient or family insisting on the primacy of their autonomy. Forcing health care workers by law to administer interventions which require them to violate the dignity of the human person is cruel. It creates moral distress for healthcare providers who know the correct ethical and moral action but are prevented from taking it.[3]

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said “Every medical action must always have as its object—intended by the moral agent—the promotion of life and never the pursuit of death. The physician is never a mere executor of the will of patients or their legal representatives, but retains the right and obligation to withdraw at will from any course of action contrary to the moral good discerned by conscience.”[4] For this reason, we support the retention of the dispute resolution process to ensure that physicians can exercise their right of conscience while also ensuring that patients can access a transfer if appropriate.

We caution against the rhetoric in this debate that Texas doctors and hospitals are killing patients using this process. That view fails to recognize that sometimes instructions to stop medical intervention are an acceptance of natural death in total respect for the human person. Setting aside the argument of medical effectiveness, some medical interventions are actually harmful and constitute violence to the human body.

[1] USCCB, Ethical and Religious Directives, 6th edition, no. 58.

[2] Evangelium Vitae, no. 20

[3] Elizabeth G. Epstein and Sarah Delgado, "Understanding and Addressing Moral Distress" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (Sept 30, 2010) Vol. 15, No. 3, Manuscript 1. At http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/EthicsStandards/Courage-and-Distress-/Understanding-Moral-Distress.html

[4] Samaritanus Bonus, no. 2, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith