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FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Texas toddler has won another chance at life, at least temporarily.
On Thursday, Chief Justice Sandee Marion of the 48th District Court in Tarrant County ruled against Cook Children's Medical Center, allowing 10-month old Tinslee Lewis more time to live in order to find another hospital willing to take her in.
Lewis was born with a congenital heart and lung disease and requires a ventilator to assist with breathing. She has been a patient with Cook Children's since her birth. The hospital determined last month, after an "ethics panel" met, that Tinslee fails to meet the quality of life threshold needed to continue treatment, and decided to remove her breathing tube.
Under the Texas Advanced Directives Act (TADA), hospitals must start an ethics "consultation process," in which the family of a patient is given 48 hours' notice to attend. The family is allowed to consult a private physician and lawyer, but it is up to the discretion of the ethics panel to decide to allow the family, or their representative, to address the panel. Hospitals are not required to listen to the desires of the patient, the patient's family or the patient's representative in making its decision, and instead judges by the "best interests" of the patient.
If the panel decides that the patient's quality of life does not warrant continued medical treatment, the hospital's only obligation is to provide a patient's family 10 days, including weekends, to find a hospital willing to continue care — a narrow time frame that has been criticized by pro-life advocates as unreasonably short. If the family fails to find another center willing to take in the patient, then the patient often faces inevitable death.
The Thursday court hearing over Tinslee's fate began at 9 a.m. and ended nine hours later, just after 6 p.m.
The Lewis family faced opposition from self-proclaimed pro-life groups, including Texas Alliance for Life, Texans for Life Coalition and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. They were joined by groups advocating on behalf of hospitals and nursing homes.
The anti-Lewis coalition filed a friend-of-the court brief Wednesday, arguing in favor of Cook County Medical Center and its belief that Tinslee should be allowed to die rather than continue receiving treatment.
"Human intervention that would deliberately cause, hasten, or unnecessarily prolong the patient's death violates the dignity of the human person," the bishops argued.
The judge was unable to read the 19-page document before the hearing and so delayed making a decision with regard to Tinslee, whose family had previously asked for an injunction against the hospital to prevent it from removing Tinslee's breathing tube.
The judge will review this and all other cases cited in the submitted briefs.
Marion will review the friend-of-the-brief and will allow more briefs to be submitted by Lewis' lawyers and will provide a decision on the injunction on or before Jan. 2.
Kassi Marks, a pro-life activist, spoke on behalf of the legal team representing Lewis. She told Church Militant, "The judge is going to consider all of the briefing which has already been filed concerning the constitutionality of the statute. She also invited us to file supplemental briefing by December 20, which we are working on. We have others who are arranging for transfer with four hospitals who are reviewing the case. Even one in Italy has expressed interest. But, mostly, now we will be praying for everything else to succeed."
According to Marks, the brief in opposition made arguments along the lines of: "[It]'s hopeless, we're causing her pain, nurses can't bear to take care of her, and we need to allow this child to die."
Church Militant broke the story in November when Cook Children's informed the Lewis family of its decision to end Tinslee's treatment, giving the family 10 days to find another hospital before removing Tinslee's breathing tube. The narrow time frame was barely enough time for the Lewis family to find Texas Right to Life, which provided lawyers able to navigate through the legal battle.
Lawyers discovered the hospital "ethics" panel made the decision to remove treatment, not because Lewis had a fatal condition (she doesn't), but because of a subjective "quality of life" judgement based on their belief that Tinslee's life is not worth continuing.
After Church Militant's report, Cook Children's administrator Stan Davis received a flood of calls to save Baby Tinslee. After the voicemail box was full, supporters left their messages with nursing staff, prompting one nurse to tell the family, "I can't believe you told the media. We do this all the time."
The family was forced to find a judge willing to hear the case to place a temporary restraining order on the hospital owing to the 10 days ending on a weekend, when courts are closed.
Judge Alex Kim granted a restraining order on Nov. 10, the day Lewis was set to have treatment removed, so Lewis' case could be heard at a later date and more time could be won.
Families unable to find legal counsel would have had little choice but to accept the hospital's decision without recourse.
Church Militant has covered the cases of other victims of the 10-Day rule, with victims and advocates calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to enact victim protection measures the legislative session failed to enact under the leadership of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Bonnen was forced to resign in disgrace after the 86th session ended when it was discovered he was involved in corruption in offering quid-quo-pro to a lobbyist organization.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a friend-of-the-court brief in defense of Lewis and stated the 10-Day Rule is unconstitutional due to denying citizens the constitutional right to life without due process.
Cook Children's Response
On November 15, lawyers for Cook Children's filed a motion requesting Judge Kim to recuse himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest. Cook Children's objected to the influence of state representatives and lawyers for the Lewis family being used to help the family locate a judge willing to grant the temporary restraining order.
The hospital eventually reached an agreement with the family not to make a decision about Tinslee until the case was heard in court.
Chief Justice Sandee Marion was then assigned to hear the case on Dec. 9.
Those involved with the case ask for prayers as the proceedings continue.