SCCL Wins Victory for Dying Children, Incapacitated Adults

By Holly Gatling, Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The State Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday, April 29, 2021, unanimously adopted an amendment proposed by South Carolina Citizens for Life to protect dying children, especially when parents might disagree on treatment. SCCL proposal also protects adults who are unable to make medical decisions for themselves.

The purpose of the unamended original bill was to allow the parents of a terminally ill child to request a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order when the child is near death and the parents seek only palliative or comfort care for the child. Under current law, only adults with a “terminal condition” may request a DNR.

Unfortunately the original bill introduced to give parents the right to request a DNR for a child had two serious problems. First, instead of using the phrase “terminally ill” (meaning death is imminent) the bill used the vague phrase “seriously ill.” Second, the bill had no provisions for resolving a dispute between parents who disagree about whether a DNR is right for the dying child.

The SCCL amendment adopted unanimously by the Medical Affairs subcommittee and then the full committee reversed the “seriously ill” language back to “terminally ill.” In his testimony before the Medical Affairs subcommittee hearing S.508, SCCL lobbyist Jimmy Hepburn pointed out that the words “serious illness” fail to specify “whether the patient would die even if the condition were treated.” He argued that, “Patients have a right to refuse any medical treatment for themselves, but agents or surrogates of adults, and parents of children do not have the right to deny life-saving treatment from patients entrusted to their care who could really live beyond the short term.”

Mr. Hepburn noted that children and adults “unable to make their own medical decisions should not be allowed to die when treatment exists for their illness that would prevent their imminent death.” He used the example of someone choking on a chicken bone which is a life-threatening event unrelated to serious or terminal illness. “Choking on a chicken bone will certainly result in someone’s death within twelve months,” he argued, “and is thus a ‘serious illness’” as originally defined by S.508. But choking on a chicken bone is a condition that can be quickly reversed, he said. The current South Carolina law “at least requires that an illness be irreversible and so does our amendment.”

The second part of the SCCL amendment “stops a do not resuscitate order from being placed on a child if one parent explicitly refuses consent” and allows either parent to ask for a judge to resolve the dispute.

“Parents should be able to request a do not resuscitate order for their children who have a veritably diagnosed terminal condition” Mr. Hepburn said. In many cases, however, “an illness on its own is not sufficient to bring about imminent death.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate calendar. If it remains uncontested, it could pass and be sent to the S.C. House before the 2021 legislative session ends on May 13, 2021.