Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

After son’s death, mom sues to protect parental rights

Family | Jonee Fonseca says California law let doctors end her toddler’s life support
by Andrew Shaughnessy
Posted 2/12/18, 05:14 pm

A mother and a team of lawyers are challenging the constitutionality of California laws that allowed doctors to take her 2-year-old son off life support against her wishes. The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed an opening brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last month on behalf of Jonee Fonseca, whose son, Israel Stinson, died in August 2016.

“This is a new area of law that is being addressed because of a lack of appreciation for life and the basic physician oath to protect life,” PJI president Brad Dacus told me. “We’re seeing what was once an issue of defending the sanctity of human life with regard to the unborn, but now the issue has outrageously expanded to include those who are clearly living and have not been properly determined to be ‘brain-dead.’”

This case is the latest salvo in an ongoing saga of legal drama, medical melee, and heartbreak that has played out over two countries and in multiple hospitals and courtrooms.

After Israel suffered asthma and heart attacks in April 2016, he lapsed into unconsciousness, stopped breathing on his own, and was declared brain-dead by doctors. Sustained by a ventilator, the toddler continued to show signs of life—interpreted by doctors as involuntary muscle twitches but by Israel’s parents, Nathaniel Stinson and Fonseca, as hope. Stinson and Fonseca were determined to fight for their son, and with PJI’s help, they filed an emergency brief that kept Israel on life support and bought them time.

In May 2016, the parents moved Israel to a hospital in Guatemala for treatment. Late that summer, thinking that Children’s Hospital Los Angeles would treat their son, they moved him back to the United States. When hospital officials learned that the state of California had already issued a death certificate, they pushed to take the child off life support. Israel’s parents appealed, but a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled against them. Israel died after the hospital took him off the ventilator in August 2016.

PJI, representing Fonseca and the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said California laws offer “woefully inadequate safeguards” to parental rights and patients’ self-determination. A lower court in Sacramento dismissed the case, saying the state cannot be held responsible for its determination-of-death laws because doctors have “broad and legitimate discretion” to end patients’ life support. PJI argued that, in cases like Israel’s, “the deprivation of life without due process of law” violates patients’ constitutional rights.

Last summer, the case of Charlie Gard, in which British doctors and courts blocked the transfer of a terminally ill baby to another country for treatment, drew international attention to the issues of parental rights and the power of doctors. Charlie died under hospice care just before his first birthday after it was determined his disease had progressed too far for the experimental treatment his parents unsuccessfully sought for him. In a haunting parallel, a London High Court justice ruled in late January that 11-month-old Isaiah Haastrup, who suffered brain damage at birth and survived on life support, ought to be taken off his respirator. Throughout the ordeal, Isaiah’s parents fought for their son’s life. Doctors argued that continuing life support would only cause more suffering, and Justice Alistair MacDonald said “with profound sadness” that keeping the boy alive was “not in his best interest.”

PJI’s Dacus noted that the case before the 9th Circuit is not just about parental rights, but also about combating a sinister societal shift in which human life is increasingly only valued and protected when it is a “quality life.”

“Historically this has been a dangerous slope, which never has a happy ending for a society,” he said. “People need to understand that this case is not about hypotheticals. This case is one of several … where individuals were aggressively attempted to be killed by a hospital in direct disagreement with evidence and medical opinions to the contrary. That is how serious this matter has become.”

PJI and the plaintiffs anticipate oral arguments to take place this summer or fall. 

Associated Press/Photo by Tony Dejak Associated Press/Photo by Tony Dejak The Preterm abortion facility in Cleveland

Ohio Supreme Court rules against abortion providers

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld rulings last week against abortion facilities in Toledo and Cleveland.

One case dates to 2014, when the Ohio Department of Health moved to close down Capital Care of Toledo, which justices said violated rules by transferring patients out of state rather than to a local, private hospital. The Supreme Court ruling means that Capital Care will close, though the abortion center is expected to appeal.

In the second case, Preterm of Cleveland challenged the constitutionality of abortion restrictions included in a state budget bill passed in 2013. Preterm argued that the restrictions, which included the maintaining of written emergency patient transfer agreements with local hospitals and required testing for a fetal heartbeat with the mother having the opportunity to hear it before an abortion could be performed, caused undue administrative and caseload burdens. In the end, the Ohio justices ruled against the abortion business, finding it lacked legal standing to sue and that the bill had not imposed true harm.

“Today, the court affirmed what a vast majority of Ohioans expected—abortion should not be advanced at the expense of women’s health and safety,” Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis said in a statement.

The Ohio justices’ findings come amid declining abortions and facility closings across the state, attributed by some to cultural change and by others to the many restrictions passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature and Republican Gov. John Kasich over the last seven years. —A.S.

Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis Mississippi state Rep. Andy Gipson

Mississippi considers 15-week abortion ban

A Mississippi House Judiciary committee approved late last month House Bill 1510, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks—the earliest in the United States. The bill now goes before the entire Republican-controlled House for further debate.

The bill makes exceptions if the mother’s life is threatened by the pregnancy or in cases where the baby has a severe abnormality.

“The risk to the mother is the prime driver in this bill,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, the committee’s Republican chairman and a Baptist pastor. “I think the Supreme Court has recognized that the states have an interest in protecting human life.”

Mississippi already has a 20-week abortion ban, and only one abortion center remains in operation in the state, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has fought numerous court battles over the years against legislation that sought to limit its operations or shut it down completely. —A.S.

Judge pokes fun at New York’s pro-abortion argument

A federal judge in New York City appeared to agree with pro-life advocates whose case was heard in court last month.

On the docket were pro-life sidewalk counselors from the Church of the Rock in Brooklyn, sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last June for allegedly harassing patients and staff at the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens. The Thomas More Society, which represents the church members, argued its clients, who met in front of the abortion center once a week for five years, compassionately counsel women considering an abortion and are properly exercising their First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon seemed to agree, asserting that sidewalks are the “quintessential public forum” and that handing out leaflets is “protected speech.” Amon took issue with the state’s definition of harassment, characterized by “persistent … annoying behavior,” quipping that if being annoying was grounds for a harassment charge, “I could sue all of you here today.” The case continues, and such proceedings bode well for the defendants and the future of free speech and public assembly outside abortion facilities. —A.S.

West Virginia advances pro-life amendment

The West Virginia Senate last week advanced a proposed amendment to the state constitution asserting abortion is not a right. If approved by the House and a voter referendum, the amendment would bolster lawmakers’ abilities to protect the unborn and restrict abortion funding.

West Virginia is one of 17 states that uses state Medicaid funds to pay for abortions for the poor. Some 1,560 Medicaid-funded abortions took place in West Virginia in 2017 alone—triple the number funded by Medicaid only five years ago and costing taxpayers about $330,000. Language under consideration in the pro-life bill would ban Medicaid-funded abortions unless the mother’s life was at stake.

The bill was modeled after a 2014 Tennessee amendment that last month was upheld in a federal appeals court following a challenge by Planned Parenthood. —A.S.

Meet baby Lucas

Gerber announced last week it chose 18-month-old Lucas Warren as its 2018 spokesbaby. He is the first baby with Down syndrome to be chosen for this honor, and is adorable. WORLD Magazine’s Jamie Dean pointed out in her Whirled Views Journal last week, “Some late-term abortions involve children like Lucas,” but his smiling face reminds us of the value of all lives. —A.S.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career class.

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  • MommynatorRN's picture
    Posted: Thu, 02/15/2018 04:38 pm

    Your article is an oversimplification of how doctors in the United States determine the course of treatment of individuals who have no distinguishable brain function, but are placed on ventilation to support "life". It is true that if there is brain death, the body will twitch. There are complicated neurological explanations for that. If the individual is not coming back - showing signs of being able to breathe on their own, or move or respond or do anything a potentially healing individual can do, then they are dead. The medical world has wrestled with this issue for years.

    It is NOT a kindness to keep people on ventilators, intubated, wired, etc. It's not just the machines clicking. In order to keep organs from failing, there are medications and other therapies involved. Skin degrades. The threat of infections and possible sepsis always hangs over each patient in this state.

    In contrast, my mother often told me a friend of hers who gave birth to a baby with spina bifida. This was in the 60s when there were no advanced treatments for this condition like we have for the most part today. At that time, the mother was encouraged to let the baby die. The baby was not fed or hydrated or held or offered any comfort measures. My mother went with her to visit the baby and said she was haunted by the baby's cries. That was a crime any way you look at it. That child would have had serious issues, but it could have lived.

    Taking a child off ventilation when it cannot breathe for itself with no hope of a change for the better is not in the same category. A hundred years ago, such children would have died. Period. As Christians, we should understand that the end of this life, no matter the stage, begins the next one. This is not heartless, it's reality. Yes, letting go of someone is painful. Yes, we wish them to live with us. 

    For more of the medical world's struggle with these issues (no, the vast majority of doctors and nurses aren't heartless monsters), please see this video:

  • CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Mon, 02/19/2018 11:17 pm

    The only rational reason for keeping somoene on life support after their brains stopps functioning is to facilitate organ donation.