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Has Lt. Gov. Candidate Jerry Patterson Changed His End-Of-Life Views?

Shelley Kofler
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson debating at the KERA studios.

Earlier this week, the Republicans running for lieutenant governor participated in the Texas Debatesat KERA -- and they agreed on at least one thing:

All four said a judge was wrong when he ordered John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to honor the wishes of a family and disconnect the ventilator of a brain-dead woman who was pregnant.

But, in an earlier debate, candidate Jerry Patterson said end-of-life decisions should be made by the family.

Patterson says he has “absolutely not” changed his position.

Here’s why we asked if he’s been consistent on this issue:

During a debate before a Young Republicans group on Nov. 12, Patterson was asked how he’d advance the pro-life agenda. He said: “We need to look at the end of life and protecting the end of life, making sure that when those end-of-life decisions are made, they’re made by the family.”

That was two weeks before Marlise Munoz collapsed and was declared brain dead. Her family wanted John Peter Smith to take her off life support. But the hospital refused, saying Texas law does not allow life-sustaining treatment to be withdrawn from a pregnant woman.

Then some eight weeks after Munoz was placed on life support, a judge ruled against the hospital and life support was removed.

During Monday’s debate, Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune asked Patterson and his opponents: Who was right? "Should the state require hospitals to keep patients on life support in situations like this or should it honor the wishes of the family whatever those might be?"

This time, Patterson said the family did not have the right to disconnect life support because a fetus was involved.

“In my view, we should always err on the side of life," Patterson said. "In this case, there was an unborn child, which was past the 20-week statutory limit on abortions. So I’m not sure who was the right case here but I would always err on the side of life. And I’m not sure that’s what happened in the final analysis with the judge’s ruling."

Here’s why Patterson says he didn’t flip-flop on the question of a family’s rights:

“I believe they have the right to make the decision, but they don’t have a right to make a decision that takes a life."

And Patterson considers the 20-week-old fetus a potential life even though the hospital said in court documents the fetus wasn’t viable.

Patterson and his GOP opponents -- David Dewhurst, Todd Staples and Dan Patrick -- agree that the Texas Legislature needs to clarify end-of-life laws so families and medical providers aren’t subjected to the confusion and uncertainty that made the Munoz case tough for everyone. 

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.