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Judge Rules Hospital Can Remove 11-Month Old Tinslee Lewis' Life Support Against Family Wishes

On Thursday, a Texas judge ruled the hospital responsible for the care of an 11-month-old child with complex medical needs can stop treatment and remove life support against the wishes of the child’s family.

Tinslee Lewis was born prematurely in February 2019 with Ebstein’s anomaly, a rare heart condition that required several surgeries, according to the treating hospital, Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, Texas. Tinslee also has chronic lung disease and chronic pulmonary hypertension, which require her to be on a ventilator at all times. The hospital believes Tinslee’s condition will not improve and that continuing life-giving treatments will cause the baby harm.

Cook Children’s told BuzzFeed News Tinslee needs drugs to keep her paralyzed to prevent her from pulling out lines on the ventilator as well as other sedatives and painkillers to manage her condition. Despite the hospital’s best efforts, Tinslee has “dying events” several times a day that require “aggressive medical intervention” that her treatment team believes cause her more pain.

“Doctors have had to keep her constantly paralyzed and sedated,” the hospital wrote in a statement. “While Tinslee may sometimes appear alert and moving, her movements are the result of being weaned off of the paralyzing drugs. We believe Tinslee is reacting in pain when she’s not sedated and paralyzed.”

Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, disagreed with the hospital’s attempts to remove Tinslee from life support, saying Tinslee was a cuddly baby who deserves a fighting chance, just like any other child. “I feel as if everybody’s life matters, not just because she’s a baby or anything,” Lewis told local news station WFAA in November.

The hospital consulted its ethics committee in September while both Lewis and the hospital attempted to find another hospital to take on Tinslee’s care. Cook Children’s said it reached out to more than 20 other facilities, but they all agreed with Cook Children’s assessment of Tinslee’s condition and would not take on her care.

In October, the hospital ethics committee decided additional treatments “would be inappropriate and should not be continued,” and gave the Lewis family 10 days to find another facility for Tinslee or Cook Children’s could legally withdraw life support. Lewis went to court and received a temporary restraining order against the hospital pending the outcome of a December hearing.

“What is best for Tinslee should be a decision made by her family, not by a bureaucratic hospital ethics committee,” Protect Texas Fragile Kids told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “There are other options in this case which would be far more ethical and humane than abruptly removing life support and essentially causing Tinslee to suffocate to death in her mother’s arms.”

Other families have faced similar difficulties for children with terminal illnesses or complex medical needs. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights denied 10-month-old Charlie Gard’s family the ability to travel to the U.S. for experimental treatment for his rare terminal disease. Alfie Evans, a 23-month-old U.K. child with an undiagnosed, rare degenerative neurological condition, was removed from life support after a court ruled continued treatment wasn’t in his benefit.

In Tinslee’s case, Judge Sandee Bryan Marion handed down her decision in favor of the hospital on Thursday. Marion denied a temporary injunction for the family, giving Cook Children’s the ability to remove Tinslee’s life support. With the support of the organizations Texas Right to Life and Protect Texas Fragile Kids as well as a lawyer, Lewis plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

“I am heartbroken over today’s decision because the judge basically said Tinslee’s life is NOT worth living,” Lewis told Texas Right to Life in a statement after the decision, adding:

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.

Header image via Texas Right to Life’s Facebook page