Right to Lifers Sue Lame-Duck Senator
HOUSTON (CN) - Texas Right to Life sued state Senator Bob Deuell, claiming he illegally interfered with its radio ad criticizing his bill that would have let hospitals put patients under do-not-resuscitate orders.
Texas Right to Life sued Deuell in Harris County Court.
Deuell is a physician and lame-duck state senator; he lost in the May 27 Republican primary runoff by 300 votes to Bob Hall.
Deuell, 64, is departing after a long run in the Legislature. He was first elected in 2003 as senator of District 2, a 10-county region in northeastern Texas.
Texas Right to Life, a Houston-based nonprofit, claims on its website that it helped defeat Deuell's SB303 in the 2013 session of the Legislature, a bill that it claims "was considered an expansion of euthanasia."
In the run-up to this year's Republican primary runoff, Texas Right to Life produced radio ads that were critical of Deuell's sponsorship of SB303.
"On or about May 9, 2014, Texas Right to Life hired a third party to purchase air time for their radio ad on radio stations that would reach the general public to inform the public on the issue concerning defendant's voting record," the complaint states.
"On or about May 14, 2014, defendant engaged legal counsel to contact at least two of the radio stations with which Texas Right to Life had contracted to air their radio ad and demanded the immediate cessation of the broadcasting of Texas Right to Life's radio ad.
"Upon receipt of the cease and desist letter from defendant's counsel, both Cumulus Media and Salem Communications halted the airing of Texas Right to Life's radio ad in violation of the rights of Texas Right to Life to buy and publish its opinions and facts regarding candidates in Texas elections," according to the complaint.
Deuell's interference seemed to backfire, as Texas Right to Life bought more air time on the same stations and ran an ad stating: "Bob Deuell is attempting to silence Texas Right to Life because they're telling you about his voting record." Texas Right to Life seeks damages for tortious interference, and "the cost and production of a second radio ad to run in place of the original ... and the loss of airtime for the original radio ad."
It is represented by Joseph Nixon with Beirne, Maynard & Parsons of Austin.
The group says on its website that when Deuell's cease-and-desist orders did not work he "turned to the Texas Ethics Commission in hopes that the agency would fine, penalize, or silence Texas Right to Life," but the commission denied his request.
The controversy is ripe with irony, as Deuell is a family doctor who describes himself as "an outspoken advocate for patient rights."
In fact, SB303 requires a doctor or hospital to "make a reasonably diligent effort" to inform a patient or surrogate before placing a do-not-resuscitate order in the patient's file.
If the patient or surrogate disagrees with the order, the bill mandates that it be removed for review by an ethics or medical committee.
The bill's text states: "If the patient has been diagnosed with an irreversible nonterminal condition, the ethics or medical committee may sustain the decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment only if, based on reasonable medical judgment, the treatment would: (1) threaten the patient's life; (2) seriously exacerbate other major medical problems; (3) result in irremediable physical pain or discomfort not outweighed by the benefit of the treatment; or (4) be medically ineffective in prolonging the patient's life."
Texas Right to Life claims the legislation would have given doctors and hospitals too much sway over a patient's so-called "end-of-life" decisions.
"Moral decisions about a patient's treatment and life, such as the degree of suffering and discomfort, the responsibility of long-term care, and acceptance of living with a disability or terminal illness, should be left to the patient since she is in the best position to make these value judgments about the quality of her own life," the group says on its website.
A worker in Deuell's office at the Capitol referred Courthouse News to his campaign office, which did not return a request for comment.