Judge Puts Hold on Texas Baby's Mercy Killing

A 17-month-old Texan baby who was to be euthanized Wednesday was given some extra time after a probate judge issued a temporary restraining order against the infant's hospital Tuesday, requiring it to keep the baby alive.

With the restraining order, Emilio Gonzales, who is currently hooked up to tubes to help him breathe and eat, will continue to receive medical treatment with a hearing date set for Apr. 19. At the hearing, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorneys will argue for the baby's right to live.

"We are very pleased that the court today has agreed that little Emilio should continue to receive the treatment he needs to live while this case moves forward," explained Joshua Carden, the ADF-allied attorney working on the case along with lead counsel Jerri Ward, in a statement.

According to Texas law, hospitals have the right to make the call on life-or-death issues in severe cases. The Children's Hospital of Austin, which had been caring for Emilio since Dec. 28, 2006, had invoked the state law that allows it to end life-sustaining treatment in medically futile cases, which the hospital's doctors and ethics panel decided Emilio's case to be on Mar. 12.

The hospital then gave Emilio's mother, Catarina Gonzales, 23, the required 10-day notice that they would be turning off the infant's life support. Due to litigation, that 10-day window had been extended to Apr. 10.

Gonzales, as well as the rest of her family, have argued against the decision, and have filed a lawsuit to keep the baby alive.

"The Children's Hospital of Austin should do the right thing by Emilio," said Carden in a statement. "Instead, the hospital made the wrong decision by attempting to subject this little boy to 'death by vote.'"

A restraining order had previously been requested and later rejected by a federal judge on Apr. 4, but now with the upcoming hearing granted for Apr. 19, the hospital is required to keep tending the child until then.

Emilio suffers from a progressive illness known as Leigh's Disease. According to both sides, it is difficult to diagnose and costly to treat.

Due to the disease, the infant is unable to breathe or eat on his own, so oxygen and food must be pumped into him via tubes. The child's higher brain functions are also destroyed, and his lungs must be continuously suctioned to rid of secretions.

The boy is covered by Medicaid, however, so the decision to end treatment was not due to medical costs, according to the hospital.

Should the later ruling uphold the hospital's decision to halt the life support, Emilio would then die of suffocation. Carden argued that this type of death would be painful, and noted that the child would not receive drugs to help him pass away as do some criminals who receive the death penalty.

The case has been compared to that of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who had suffered brain damage and became dependent on a feeding tube. Although ultimately, Schiavo died of starvation after her feeding tube was removed following years of court battles, Emilio's case differs in that his entire family has voiced their desire for him to be kept alive artificially. Schiavo's family had gone into a legal dispute over whether or not to keep her alive.

Carden and others supporting Emilio have criticized the hospital for "making quality of life value judgments."

"That's a huge source of concern," Carden said, according to The Associated Press.