Bush Criticized for End-of-Life Laws

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Published March 25, 2005

| FoxNews.com

While Americans were riveted by dramatic events unfolding in Pinellas Park, Fla., a five-month-old Houston baby took his last breath after a hospital let him die despite his mother's objections.

Sun Hudson (search) was born Sept. 25 with thanatophoric dysplasia (search), an incurable and fatal form of dwarfism. Doctors said his tiny lungs would never fully grow and that he would never breathe on his own.

Hudson's mother, Wanda, put up a fight when doctors advised removing Sun from a respirator. She said she did not believe in sickness or death.

But on March 15, a Texas law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush (search) in 1999 allowed the hospital to go ahead and take Sun off the respirator in defiance of Wanda Hudson's wishes.

While the battle over Terri Schiavo (search) has drawn dozens of outraged protesters to her Florida hospice, Sun's story made nary a bleep on the nation's radar. The few media outlets that picked up his story predictably drew parallels to the Schiavo case, and some experts have charged the president with hypocrisy.

"The Texas statute that Bush signed authorized the ending of the life, even over the parents' protest. And what he's doing here is saying, 'The parents are protesting. You shouldn't stop [treatment],'" John Paris, a medical ethicist at Boston College, told Newsday.

But some experts said the two cases are quite different.

As is true of other state laws, Texas' Advance Directives Act of 1999 (search) privileges the input of the patient's spouse over that of adult children, followed by the parents if there is no written directive.

But ultimately, the decision to extend treatment is made by the doctors and hospital.

"I think her rights were violated," Mario Caballero (search), Wanda Hudson's attorney, told FOX News. "These are decisions that the mother ought to make, and what really happened here is not an ethical issue."

John Robertson, professor of bioethics at the University of Texas School of Law (search), said the Schiavo battle would have played out similarly had it taken place in Texas.

"The Schiavo case does not involve [the question of] if medical treatment is inappropriate," Robertson told FOXNews.com. "It's just, is it a treatment she would have wanted? It's a case of what the patient would have decided."

Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital unanimously agreed that Sun would never breathe on his own, was in pain and would eventually die from his condition. But Wanda Hudson objected, telling doctors that her baby was a gift from the sun and would not die.

"I was told what to do by Sun," she told a judge on Feb. 16. "I don't understand all this legal stuff. But please give Sun time to allow Sun to create Sun."

The doctors brought the case before a hospital ethics committee, which sided with them. But because Wanda Hudson disagreed, they were obligated to seek treatment for Sun elsewhere. Every facility they tried agreed with their prognosis.

"The provision in the statute indicates if doctors think treatment is futile and the relative doesn't want to take the patient off life support, then they can try to make provisions for care in another facility," Maxine Harrington, an associate professor at the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (search), told FOXNews.com. "They tried about 40 other facilities, and finally petitioned the court to authorize removal of life support."

Harrington agreed that while the Schiavo case was different, her battle would have been as protracted in Texas as it has been in Florida.

"The laws aren't that different," she said.

While Robertson conceded it was probably unfair to label Bush a hypocrite over the Advance Directives Act, the professor added that other contradictions had surfaced this week.

Referring to Bush's backing of an unprecedented House maneuver to prolong Schiavo's life on Monday, he said: "In 1999, as governor, he had more faith in our state court processes than he appeared last week to have in the Schiavo case."

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