Supreme Court decision prevents Texas hospital from withdrawing life support from Tinslee Lewis

An overview of the US Supreme Court Building in Washington, November 15, 2016. | Reuters / Carlos Barria

The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a Texas hospital seeking to overturn a lower court decision that prevented it from removing a girl’s life support.

Cook Children’s Medical Center v. Tinslee Lewis, et al. it was one of several cases the Supreme Court refused to hear on Monday. The court’s refusal to hear the case leaves the lower court’s decision temporarily preventing Fort Worth, Texas-based Cook Children’s Medical Center from removing 23-month-old Tinslee Lewis from life support.

Lewis’s mother has spent more than a year fighting to keep her daughter alive. In November 2019, Cook Children’s Medical Center attempted to invoke the 10-Day Rule against Lewis, who was born prematurely and with heart disease. The Texas Advance Directive Act, or 10-Day Rule, has been described by pro-life group Live Action as an “unethical and institutional power play” that “allows families just 10 days to find a new hospital to their family members on life support after the hospital they are currently using decides to phase out life support. “

The 10-Day Rule requires hospitals to give families 10 days’ notice before ending life-sustaining treatment for patients who are terminally ill or who doctors believe have little or no chance of survival. With the approval of a medical or ethics committee, physicians can terminate treatment in these cases.

Once a hospital has decided to stop treatment, families have 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If families are unable to find a hospital and transfer the patient before the 10th day, all treatments are withdrawn unless a judge intervenes with a court order that requires the hospital to continue life-sustaining treatment.

“TL’s life has value,” the attorneys for Tinslee Lewis and her mother explained in a brief to the Supreme Court. “Withdrawal of life-saving treatment would kill TL, who has normal brain function, interacts with Mother, and experiences joie de vivre. Mother acknowledges that certain medical procedures, such as intravenous insertions, can cause TL pain, but TL he is not in agony. “

“The petitioner claims that he made the moral decision that the treatment ‘inflicts pain and fear on a sedated child without any benefit,” they added. “The moral decision that there is no benefit in TL’s life is not a Petitioner’s. That decision belongs to his Mother and his Creator.”

Lewis’s attorneys explained that they had asked the appellate court to issue a temporary injunction, contending that such action was necessary to “give state courts an opportunity to assess the constitutionality of section 166.046 of the Health and Safety Code of California. Texas through a judgment on the merits “.

According to the brief filed on behalf of the Lewis family, that particular provision of Texas law “allows hospitals to end the lives of patients without allowing them to realize and have the opportunity to be heard about the value of their lives. “.

In a response brief filed with the Supreme Court, attorneys for Cook Children’s Medical Center argued: “This case involves a private hospital providing private medical care to a private patient; there is no state input, involvement or control of any kind.” .

Furthermore, they wrote, the Lewis family’s inability to find an alternative hospital to provide care “indicates deep moral, ethical, and medical problems with the respondents’ proposed course of painful treatment for a terminally ill child.”

Attorneys for Lewis’ family also dispute the notion that the case does not involve any state action, claiming that “defining the legal means of death and death is state action.” In addition, they asked the Supreme Court to reject Cook Children’s Medical Center’s appeal, claiming it did not have jurisdiction to hear a case that fully addresses state law.

According to the pro-life group Texas Right to Life, “the case will now return to the lower court for its final judgment on the merits.” Texas Right to Life contends that the lower court trial will allow a judge to decide whether “the rights of the Tinslee baby are being violated,” whether a hospital should have “unilateral authority to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment from a patient against the will of the patient / surrogate “and whether” patients have any right to due process in these situations “and the constitutionality of the 10-Day Rule.

If the district court rules in Lewis’ favor, not only would Cook Children’s Medical Center be permanently barred from withdrawing his life support, but all Texas hospitals would no longer have the ability to use the 10-Day Rule to “hasten the death of the patients”.

The 10 Day Rule law was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1999 and signed by the then Governor. George W. Bush “as a commitment between the medical community and pro-life and disability rights groups,” notes The Houston Law Review.

“The consensus at the time of passage did not last long because pro-life and disability rights groups were concerned with how doctors and hospitals implemented the procedures of the statute. It became clear that the statute provided for physicians absolute immunity, but it only provided “very weak procedural protection for patients,” the journal adds.

Since then, the magazine notes that the Texas Legislature has considered more than 25 measures designed to amend the law, but has only enacted two.

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