Life for Tinslee Lewis
Life | The Supreme Court weighs in on case of a child on life support
by Leah Hickman
Posted 1/14/21, 06:32 pm
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected Cook Children’s Medical Center’s request to remove a child from life support against her mother’s wishes. The case returns to a lower court, where Tinslee Lewis’ supporters at Texas Right to Life expect the court to allow the child to keep living.
Almost 2-year-old Tinslee in Fort Worth, Texas, suffers from a rare heart defect, lung disease, and high blood pressure and has been in the hospital since her premature birth on Feb. 1, 2019. After she stopped breathing in July 2019, the hospital provided sedation, ventilation, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, in which a machine oxygenates the blood in place of the heart and lungs.
In November 2019, the children’s hospital tried to invoke Texas’ “10-day rule,” to take Tinslee off life support. Under this rule, hospitals that wish to remove a patient from life-sustaining treatment when the family disagrees must try to find another facility willing to take the patient. If no other provider is willing, the hospital can deny treatment after 10 days.
Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, argued that her daughter’s condition could still improve and began a lengthy court battle against the rule.
This July, a Texas appeals court released a carefully researched 148-page opinion in favor of Lewis. “When a terminally ill patient or her surrogate decision maker (especially a parent of a minor patient with her own individual liberty interest) actively opposes the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, the right to life is clearly implicated,” Justice Wade Birdwell wrote. Texas Right to Life said the “incredibly significant” decision “decimates” the 10-day rule.
A month after the Texas Supreme Court also ruled in Tinslee’s favor in October 2020, Cook Children’s Medical Center appealed to the Supreme Court. Since the justices have rejected the request, only one more trial, in the 48th District Court, stands between Tinslee and the end of the monthslong legal battle.
“We feel great about Tinslee’s case in the courts,” Texas Right to Life spokesperson Kim Schwartz said, pointing to the appeals court’s opinion. “Whenever it goes back to the trial court, the judge will use that opinion to make her decision. And so that will really inform the way that the judge is supposed to think about this case.”
Tinslee has recently made “positive steps forward in her health,” Schwartz said, though she would not provide specifics for the sake of the family’s privacy. She added other doctors have reviewed Tinslee’s case and said recovery is not hopeless. According to a motion filed in a district court in July, a doctor from the University of Michigan said performing a tracheostomy could improve Tinslee’s condition.
“A year ago, [Cook Children’s Medical Center] said that Tinslee was going to die in five months,” Schwartz said. “Not only is that blatantly disproven … but these other doctors have looked at her and said that ‘No, actually. We think that there is hope for Tinslee.’”
A ruling in Lewis’ favor means Tinslee would continue receiving treatment at the hospital. It would also invalidate the use of the 10-day rule in other Texas cases, allowing families to seek out additional medical care options for their sick loved ones.
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