Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined a legal battle Friday in defense of a 9-month-old girl who’s receiving treatment at Cook Children’s Medical Center which is seeking to remove the baby’s life support.
Paxton issued a friend-of-the-court brief in support of baby Tinslee Lewis and her family three days after a judge renewed a temporary restraining order that prohibits Cook Children’s in Fort Worth from removing a feeding tube and ventilator, and gives the family until Dec. 10 to find a hospital elsewhere in the U.S. that will admit the baby and continue her treatment.
In a statement to The Christian Post on Friday, Paxton said, “One of the core principles provided by the U.S. Constitution is that no person should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
At issue is the Texas Advance Directives Act, a law that, among other things, requires hospitals to give families 10 days’ notice before ending life-sustaining treatment for patients suffering from a terminal illness or who doctors believe have little or no chance of survival. With approval from a medical or ethics committee, doctors are allowed to end treatment in these cases.
Once a hospital has decided to discontinue treatment, families are given 10 days to find a different hospital that is willing to admit their loved one.
If families are unable to find a hospital and transfer the patient by the 10th day, all treatments are withdrawn unless a judge intervenes with a court order requiring the hospital to continue life-sustaining treatment.
The law was passed in 1999 and signed by then Gov. George W. Bush "as a compromise between the medical community and pro-life and disability rights groups," The Houston Law Review journal notes.
"The consensus at the time of passage did not last long because pro-life and disability rights groups grew concerned with how doctors and hospitals implemented the statute's procedures. It became clear that the statute provided doctors with absolute immunity yet provided only 'very weak procedural protections for patients'," the journal adds.
Since then, the journal notes that the Texas Legislature has considered over 25 bills aimed at amending the law, but have enacted only two.
Paxton described the law as "unconstitutional," adding that it "infringes on patients’ right to life and does not allow patients and their families sufficient notice and the opportunity to be heard before physicians override the rights of their patients."
He continued, "Patients must be heard and justly represented when determining their own medical treatment, especially when the decision to end treatment could end their life.”
The attorney general’s office said the law “also fails to require that physicians provide an explanation of why they refused life-sustaining treatment, effectively allowing the government to deny an individual’s right to his or her own life and to do so without due process.”
On Tuesday, Judge Alex Kim renewed the temporary restraining order requiring Cook Children’s to maintain baby Tinslee’s life-sustaining treatment. Kim’s order gives the family until Dec. 10 to find a hospital that will accept her transfer. A previous order gave the family until Nov. 22 to find a new hospital.
Baby Tinslee has never been outside the intensive care unit at Cook Children's, having been born premature with a rare heart defect called Ebstein's anomaly. Since July she's also been on a ventilator machine that helps her breathe due to a chronic lung disease.
Doctors at Cook Children's maintain that baby Tinslee’s condition cannot be reversed and believe she is in pain. Earlier this month, administrators at the hospital said they had reached out to 19 other children's hospitals around the country but none were willing to admit her as a patient.
Cook Children’s said in a Nov. 10 statement that each hospital said “they feel there is nothing more they can provide to help improve this precious child’s life.”
The baby’s mother, Trinity Lewis, has long pleaded with the hospital to continue her daughter’s life-sustaining treatments, which pro-life groups and the attorney general’s office are also advocating for.
Pro-life group Texas Right to Life, which is providing lawyers for the Lewis family, said Tuesday that lawyers for both parties agreed to extend the temporary restraining order to allow “our patient advocacy team more time to secure a transfer.”
The next court hearing will be between Dec. 4-10. “During this hearing, a judge will decide whether to grant a temporary injunction, which will extend Tinslee’s safety beyond Dec. 10, or to allow Cook Children’s to pull the plug on baby Tinslee afterward,” the group said in a statement.
“We praise God for this extension of time,” Texas Right to Life said, noting that baby Tinslee’s life support was initially scheduled to be withdrawn on Nov. 10.
On Nov 15, Cook Children’s filed a motion requesting that the judge be ordered to recuse himself from the case amid claims that he is “personally biased in the case based on his affiliation with groups that have campaigned against the law under which the hospital tried to end Tinslee’s treatment," the Fort-Worth Star Telegram reports.
The motion also accuses Kim of improperly asking the Tarrant County district clerk to assign this case to him, which Cook Children’s argues falls outside the juvenile cases he’s assigned to hear.
Tye Brown, Tinslee’s cousin, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the a family was appreciative of Kim for providing the extension.
“He is actually hearing us out,” she said. “We’re hopeful and praying every day that we do find a place for her. We want to give her the care and treatment she deserves.”