Baby Tinslee Lewis spent her first birthday on Feb. 1 at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, where she has lived her entire life. On top of her rare heart defect, chronic lung disease, and severe high blood pressure, Tinslee went into respiratory arrest in July. Since then, she’s required a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, in which a machine oxygenates the blood in place of the heart and lungs. Doctors had to put her on paralyzing drugs to keep her from disconnecting her tubes. Three days after her birthday, a Texas appeals court heard arguments in a case that will decide whether the hospital can remove Tinslee’s life support.
Under a 1999 Texas law that stipulates how doctors and families make end-of-life decisions in difficult cases, the hospital has a right to withdraw life support if the doctors and hospital ethics committee agree that Tinslee’s condition can’t be improved. Cook Children’s told Tinslee’s family back in October it would take her off of life support, and, according to the law, the family had 10 days to try to transfer Tinslee to another hospital. At least 20 facilities turned them down.
Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, has won temporary court orders to prolong her daughter’s life. She insists the girl is not suffering, but physicians say she is. Texas Alliance for Life and several other pro-life groups have come out in support of the law that would allow the hospital to end Tinslee’s medical treatment. They filed an amicus brief defending the law as a good compromise between the rights of the family to make end-of-life decisions and the hospital’s right to end treatment when doctors see it as extending suffering rather than offering a remedy. A different group, Texas Right to Life, represents the family and has enlisted support from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans. —L.H.