A Texas judge has ruled that little Tinslee Lewis, the 11-month-old baby girl with a rare heart defect and other conditions, can be removed from life support despite her family’s strong objections.
The case started last year when Cook Children’s Hospital invoked the 10-day rule, a law that allows doctors to remove life-sustaining treatment within 10 days if they believe that the patient is in pain and further treatment is futile. If the patient’s family disagrees, they can petition the ethics board and use the 10 days to look for an alternative treatment center. If no agreement can be made, it is perfectly legal for Texas hospitals to allow their patient to die.
According to the Houston Press, “In Texas it doesn’t matter what instructions you’ve previously given or what your relatives say: If you’re in critical condition, you’re dependent on machines to survive and hospital officials decide it’s time to pull the plug, you will die. And it’s completely legal.”
That’s what’s likely to happen to Tinslee. The little girl, who has several life-threatening conditions including a rare heart condition called Ebstein’s anomaly, chronic lung disease and severe chronic pulmonary hypertension, relies on machines to live.
Currently, Tinslee is sedated and completely paralyzed by drugs at all times over concerns that she’ll try to remove her ventilator. The hospital says that Tinslee is in chronic pain and that there is nothing more they can do. While the family did have the opportunity to try and find another hospital, none would take her.
Based on the most recent court ruling, Tinslee’s family now has seven days to try again and make alternative arrangements. If they are unsuccessful, the hospital will remove her life-sustaining treatment.
Trinity Lewis, Tinslee’s mother, released this statement: “I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living. 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. Please keep praying for Tinslee and thank you for supporting us during this difficult time.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have voiced their support for the family as they explore “all legal options to ensure that Tinslee is given every chance at life.”
In so many ways, this case is incredibly tragic. But it brings up an interesting question. Does the promise of science and modern medicine sometimes allow us to overly indulge in the possibility that our loved one may recover from what could otherwise be a terminal condition? Or, on the flip side, does it allow medical professionals to, at times, ignore the patient’s family in the belief that their diagnosis is exact and that their prognosis can’t be wrong?
There is a fair amount of truth in both of those statements. Our technical advances in science and medicine have allowed people to live for decades with conditions that would have easily been fatal only 50-100 years ago. My mother has lived with stage four cancer for three years, doubling the initial life expectancy she was given, but not everyone is so lucky. Unfortunately, people still die every day.
The decisions over life and death should be left to patients and their families, not doctors, hospitals and lawyers. Treatment should continue until the family or patient decides that they would like the medical interventions to end.
In the case of little Tinslee Lewis, her family wants to continue fighting for her life. Although they are aware that it is unlikely that her situation will improve, they’re not ready to give up on her just yet. And they shouldn’t have to.
Having regulations like the 10-day rule may have started out with good intentions, but it allows doctors and hospitals to have almost unilateral control over the lives of their patients and supersede the family’s wishes. Yes, Tinslee’s condition may be fatal, but the family’s wishes should not be ignored.
Photo from Texas Right to Life