A judge ruled Thursday that a 11-month-old baby can be taken off life support at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth against the family’s wishes.
The family of Tinslee Lewis, who was born in February with severe medical problems, will appeal the decision, the family’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, said. They are filing an emergency motion to stay which, if granted, will prevent the hospital from removing life-sustaining care while the appeal is ongoing.
Officials with Cook Children’s said in a statement that the judge’s decision allows hospital staff to make the most compassionate and medically appropriate decisions for the child as she struggles to survive.
“As a result, Tinslee is paralyzed at all times. She currently is suffering from severe sepsis, not uncommon when patients require deep sedation and chemical paralysis to maintain organ function. Even with medication and support, Tinslee has ‘dying events’ 2-3 times per day. When she is in distress, Tinslee crashes and aggressive medical intervention is immediately necessary, which causes even more pain.”
The hospital also agreed to keep Tinslee on life support for seven days following the judge’s decision, regardless of whether or not the stay is granted.
“We’re pretty sad,” Tye Brown, Tinslee’s cousin, said. “We’re not angry with the judge or anything, but you know, it’s a very sad feeling.”
Brown said Trinity Lewis, Tinslee’s mother, was devastated by the news.
“She’s very upset. It’s her baby. This is her life,” she said.
Texas Right to Life shared a statement from Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, in a press release.
“I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living,” Lewis said. “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.”
Hearing and decision
Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals Chief Justice Sandee B. Marion made the decision Thursday after listening to arguments at a hearing on Dec. 12. Lawyers for the hospital argued Tinslee will never get better and keeping her on life support is causing her needless suffering.
The hospital has reached out to at least 19 other facilities to potentially transfer Tinslee, but said each facility agreed with Cook Children’s diagnosis.
However, Tinslee’s family believes she needs more time to get better, and they think she will.
Nixon argued that the hospital does not have the right to decide whether Tinslee lives or dies.
“It is the mother’s right to make that decision,” he said.
Nixon said also that the judge’s decision deprives the family of its ability to direct Tinslee’s medical care. The only crime Tinslee committed was being born sick, Nixon said.
“Criminals on death row have more rights,” he said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released a joint statement about the ruling Thursday, calling the situation “complex and heartbreaking.”
“The state will continue to support Ms. Lewis’ exhaustion of all legal options to ensure that Tinslee is given every chance at life,” according to their statement, which noted the AG’s office will support an appeal. “The State of Texas is fully prepared to continue its support of Ms. Lewis in the Supreme Court if necessary.
“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.”
Fort Worth Catholic Diocese Bishop Michael F. Olson has offered to assist Tinslee’s family “in seeking compassionate and appropriate care for her in a Catholic healthcare facility.”
In a statement Thursday, Olson said, “Healthcare decisions involving the vulnerable and severely ill are best made in the patient’s interests by family and healthcare providers and not by judges, by politicians, or lobbyists.”
The ruling comes after a months-long legal battle between Cook Children’s Medical Center and the family of Tinslee Lewis.
At the center of the legal battle over Tinslee’s life is the controversial Texas Advance Directives Act — Texas Health & Safety Code 166.046 — that physicians can use to end a patient’s care they determine is futile, even if the family disagrees.
At the hearing, Nixon argued the statute is unconstitutional.
“The statute is the culprit, not the hospital,” Nixon said.
In its statement, Texas Right to Life said the group was disappointed in the ruling, which it said “not only disregarded the Constitution, but also sentenced an innocent 11-month-old baby to death like a criminal.”
The hospital in its statement committed to continue to provide the same level of intensive care to Tinslee that she has been receiving for her entire life. The decision to end life-sustaining care will be decided by the medical professionals caring for Tinslee in accordance with state law and in close communication with Tinslee’s family, the hospital statement said.
“While the Texas Right to Life group believes this case is about the constitutionality of a statute, we are only focused on what’s best for Tinslee,” the hospital’s statement said. “We ask that outside groups, even those who disagree with Cook Children’s approach, consider what is best for Tinslee now and give the family space to consider what truly is best for this baby, and allow our medical professionals space to care for her.”
In a statement in support of Thursday’s ruling, Brian Johnson, general counsel for the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, said the law exists to protect physicians from being forced to perform medically and ethically inappropriate and harmful interventions on a dying patient.
“Withdrawal of requested treatment only occurs after all avenues are exhausted, and no other medical facility is willing to provide the requested medical intervention,” Johnson’s statement said. “The Act implements a public policy that was thoroughly vetted and unanimously approved by the right-to-life community, healthcare providers, and the Texas Legislature. During the past twenty years, the Act has been modified twice. If reform is necessary, it should take place in the Texas Legislature.”
Nixon, on behalf of the Lewis family, filed an amended notice of appeal with the trial court shortly after the announcement of the judge’s ruling.
The following is a timeline of the legal battle between Cook Children’s and Tinslee’s family:
▪ Oct.: Cook Children’s officials tell Trinity Lewis, Tinslee’s mother, they are planning an Ethics Committee meeting about Tinslee’s treatment
▪ Oct. 30: The committee makes an unanimous decision to end Tinslee’s treatment.
▪ Oct. 31: The committee gives Trinity Lewis a letter saying treatment for Tinslee will end in 10 days.
▪ Nov. 10: Joe Nixon, the Lewis family’s attorney, files for a temporary restraining order against the hospital. Judge Alex Kim grants the order, which is set to expire on Nov. 22.
▪ Nov. 19: Kim extends the restraining order to Dec. 10.
▪ Nov. 20: Cook Children’s files a motion to have Kim recused from the case, saying he is biased and violated legal procedure by assigning himself the case.
▪ Dec. 4: Judge Kim is recused from the case at a hearing.
▪ Dec. 10: A temporary injunction hearing is set for Dec. 12 under Chief Justice Sandee B. Marion of the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
▪ Dec. 12: The temporary injunction hearing takes place.
▪ Jan. 2: Judge Marion issues her ruling.