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FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - A coalition of disability advocates are petitioning the Texas Supreme Court to protect a toddler from having her treatment removed against her family's wishes.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) has long supported Cook Children's Hospital (CCH) in implementing the 10-Day Rule of the Texas Advanced Directives Act (TADA), which allows the hospital to remove 20-month old Tinslee Lewis from her ventilator.
After a CCH "ethics panel" told the family in November 2019 of its decision to remove treatment, the Lewis family had 10 days to find a hospital willing to accept a transfer. Owing to the severity of Lewis' condition, extensive testing would have been necessary for another hospital to determine if it were equipped to treat Lewis' conditions.
Lewis' family contacted Texas Right to Life (TRTL), which put the family in contact with lawyers who could file a temporary injunction.
A long legal battle has played out, with Texas Alliance for Life as the "pro-life" in-name-only organization spearheading the third-party opposition to Lewis receiving treatment.
TAL has been able to maintain an air of having the moral high ground because it would cite the support of the TCCB in advancing its position in support of hospital decisions.
But the bishops in Texas can no longer present a unified front with the defection of Bp. Joseph Strickland of Tyler and bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi, Bp. René Gracida, who have signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief with other organizations, including Protect TX Fragile Kids, Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.
Kimberlyn Schwartz, TRTL communication director, says:
For a patient to not be legally or ethically required to receive extraordinary care against his or her wishes does not mean there is a right to withdraw life-sustaining medical care from a patient who wishes to continue that care. It is my sincere hope that the right to life of baby [Tinslee] and all similarly situated people will be supported in both law and culture.
The pro-life coalition has asked the court to rule the 10-Day Rule unconstitutional so the Lewis family, and other families who are victimized by TADA, can seek the treatment they need without a strict time limit imposed on them.
Lewis was born with congenital heart disease and suffers from other ailments. CCH treated her for nine months before deciding it was no longer willing to do so. CCH claimed during an ethics panel inquiry that there was nothing that could be done for Lewis; subsequently, it told the courts treatment was not only futile but added to Lewis' suffering.
In July, however, two independent doctors, Glenn Green and Patrick Roughneen, determined Lewis' condition was treatable and were willing to insert a tracheostomy (trach) tube, which would make it safe to transport Lewis to another facility. But CCH told the doctors they could not insert the trach unless Lewis' mother first agreed to sign a Do-Not-Resuscitate order.
When the Texas bishops' conference was informed of the doctors' conclusion and asked if it would revise its position on Lewis' case, it informed Church Militant it would not comment. The bishops' conference later signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief to the Texas Supreme Court opposing treatment for Lewis.
TADA was enacted under Gov. George W. Bush and was passed as a means to provide dispute resolution where providing treatment is questioned. Since that time, TRTL, which originally was a partner in passing the law, has sought through several legislative sessions to improve upon the law. This has included passing legislation to ban the practice of denying food and water to patients.
In 2019, during Texas' 86th Legislative Session, Jennifer Allmon, the TCCB's executive director, represented the Texas bishops in advocating for Senate Bill 2355, which would have allowed disabilities to be considered in determining end-of-life decisions.
Allmon was supported by Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, in opposing Senate Bill 2089, which would have repealed the 10-Day Rule. Instead of abolishing the rule outright, the bill was amended to a 45-Day Rule, but the bill still failed to pass in the lower House.