A Texas judge has ruled that a hospital can remove life support from an 11-month-old baby despite her family’s objections, drawing condemnation from pro-life groups and conservative officials.
Born prematurely, Tinslee Lewis has never been outside the intensive care unit at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth. She suffers from a rare heart defect and other health issues and has been on a ventilator since July due to a chronic lung disease.
In a statement on Thursday, Cook Children’s Medical Center said their doctors have done everything possible to save Tinslee’s life, but ultimately concluded that they would not continue to provide life-sustaining treatment, such as a ventilator or help her to breathe.
“Our medical judgment is that Tinslee should be allowed to pass naturally and peacefully rather than artificially kept alive by painful treatments. Even with the most extraordinary measures the medical team is taking, Tinslee continues to suffer,” the hospital's statement read.
Doctors at the Fort Worth hospital had planned to remove Tinslee from life support on Nov. 10 after invoking Texas' "10-day rule" under the Texas Advance Directives Act 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If families are unable to transfer the patient to a different hospital by the 10th day, all treatments are withdrawn unless a judge intervenes with a court order requiring the hospital to continue life-sustaining treatment.
With the support of Texas Right to Life, Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, had fought to keep her daughter on life support. Texas Right to Life opposes the 10-day rule, arguing it “allows hospitals to make decisions that strip away patients’ rights to life and due process against their family’s wishes, a grave injustice is committed.”
“I want to be able to make that decision for her,” Trinity said. “She’s made it this far. I know she’s going to continue to fight for her life.”
In the statement, hospital officials said they had reached “out to more than 20, well-respected healthcare facilities and specialists over the course of several months,” but all agreed that further care is futile.
Tarrant County Juvenile Court Judge Alex Kim issued a temporary restraining order to stop the removal of life support on Nov. 10. However, he was removed from the case after Cook Children's claimed he was “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.”
Following Kim's removal, Lewis had asked another judge, Chief Justice Sandee Bryan Marion of the state’s Fourth Court of Appeals, to grant an injunction stopping the hospital from removing life support. On Thursday, Marion denied that request.
"Today's decision from Chief Justice Sandee B. Marion restores the ability of the Cook Children's medical staff to make the most compassionate and medically appropriate decisions for Tinslee as she struggles in pain to survive each day. This is an emotional and difficult situation for everyone involved, especially for this family who had high hopes that Tinslee would get better," the hospital said in a statement.
"Cook Children's has been devoted to this precious baby her entire life, providing compassionate, round-the-clock, intensive care and attention since she arrived at our hospital 11 months ago," the statement added. "Her body is tired. She is suffering. It's time to end this cycle because, tragically, none of these efforts will ever make her better."
Lewis’s mother disagreed with the decision. In a statement, she wrote, "I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living. I feel frustrated because anyone in that courtroom would want more time just like I do if Tinslee were their baby. I hope that we can keep fighting through an appeal to protect Tinslee. She deserves the right to live. Please keep praying for Tinslee and thank you for supporting us during this difficult time.”
Texas Right to Life said on Facebook that the Lewis family will appeal the “heartbreaking” “anti-life decision.”
"Texas Right to Life is disappointed that the ruling not only disregarded the Constitution, but also sentenced an innocent 11-month-old baby to death like a criminal,” it said. “We pray the appellate court will identify how the law violates Baby Tinslee’s due process rights, revoke her death sentence, and strike down the deadly 10-Day Rule.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released a joint statement on the matter, offering support for Trinity and her family.
"The Attorney General’s office is involved in the ongoing litigation, fighting to see that due process and the right to life are fully respected by Texas law," they wrote. "The Attorney General’s office will be supporting an appeal of this case to the Second Court of Appeals."
"The state of Texas is fully prepared to continue its support of Ms. Lewis in the Supreme Court if necessary," they added. "We are working diligently to do all we can to ensure that Tinslee and her family are provided the care and support that they seek."