Texas judge tells Fort Worth hospital it can remove baby from life support

Texas judge tells Fort Worth hospital it can remove baby from life support
Tinslee Lewis was born prematurely at Cook Children's Medical Center, where she has spent her entire life. (Source: Texas Right to Life)

By Abby Livingston, The Texas Tribune Jan. 2, 2020

A judge ruled in favor Thursday of allowing a Fort Worth hospital to remove an infant from life support, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The move is at odds with the wishes of the 11-month-old baby’s family, which has spent recent months fighting Cook Children’s Medical Center over ending care for Tinslee Lewis.

The hospital will not take action for at least seven days. Tinslee's family intends to appeal the decision, according to the Star-Telegram.

The issue has roiled the Fort Worth community and drawn the attention of conservative groups and elected officials, including Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton argued in legal filings on behalf of the family in November.

Tinslee was born prematurely at Cook Children's Medical Center, where she has spent her entire life. Since birth, Tinslee has been plagued with medical problems and has undergone three open-heart surgeries. She's been treated for a severe heart defect, lung disease and high blood pressure. She was put on life support in July.

The hospital began talks in September with the Lewis family about transferring Tinslee to another hospital or ending care. Hospital staff previously argued that the baby is in pain and that "further medical intervention is not in Tinslee's best interest."

Judge Sandee B. Marion issued the ruling Thursday to deny the request for an injunction filed by the family, which would have prevented the hospital from removing Tinslee from life support.

Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, issued a statement on behalf of Lewis' mother, Trinity Lewis.

“I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living," she said in the statement. "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."

Kim Brown, a spokeswoman for Cook Children's Medical Center, said in a statement that the hospital would continue to search over the next seven days for another medical center to take in Tinslee.

"The Cook Children’s clinical team tried everything they could to help Tinslee improve, including reaching out to more than 20, well-respected healthcare facilities and specialists over the course of several months, but even the highest level of medical expertise cannot correct conditions as severe as Tinslee’s," she stated.

Brown also said the hospital anticipated the family would appeal, and in the meantime, staff would continue "the same level of intensive care as we have her entire life."

"The decision to end life-sustaining care will be decided upon by Tinslee’s care team in close communication with the family, and in accordance with Texas law," she added. "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. 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."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Paxton released a joint statement on the matter, offering support for Trinity Lewis.

"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."

Texas Alliance for Patient Access, a coalition of doctors, hospitals, clinics and insurance providers, said in a statement that the group offered its condolences to the family but supported Marion's decision.

Brian Jackson, an attorney for the alliance, said the law is on the side of the doctors and hospital staff.

"The statute exists to spur doctors and patients to have the difficult, but critical, dialogues that end-of-life requires. Also, it rightfully protects physicians from being forced to perform medically and ethically inappropriate and harmful interventions on a dying patient," he said. "Withdrawal of requested treatment only occurs after all avenues are exhausted, and no other medical facility is willing to provide the requested medical intervention."

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/01/02/tinslee-lewis-can-be-removed-life-support-texas-judge-says/.

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