NRL News

Think Judges Don’t Impact YOUR Life? Think again.

by | Oct 20, 2020

By Texas Right to Life 

Editor’s note. This is excerpted from a post dated October 17.

The Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) delivered more time to Baby Tinslee Lewis, an ill 20-month-old in a Fort Worth hospital. Through a long legal battle, Cook Children’s Medical Center has sought to impose death on this baby since last November. Thus far, the courts have ruled in favor of Trinity, Tinslee’s mother, who is fighting for the life of her precious daughter. 

Cook Children’s asked SCOTX for permission to withdraw the toddler’s life-sustaining treatment while the 10-Day Rule is argued in court. SCOTX declined the petition, and Tinslee will continue to receive treatment. Judges matter…they matter to Trinity and to Baby Tinslee, and judges indeed impact the daily lives of people.

A single judge in Texas could have put a death sentence on Tinslee—without due process.

Regardless of one’s own ideology, judges matter. President Trump knows this. The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg fully capitalized on her role in shaping the culture. The pro-death entity Compassion and Choices appear before judges frequently to relax protections for terminally ill patients. The families of belated Terri Schindler SchiavoKaren Ann Quinlan, and Nancy Cruzan have been sobered to the gravity of the gavel…as have hundreds of Texas families whose loved ones have languished or perished under the 10-Day Rule, including Trinity and Baby Tinslee.

Under the 10-Day Rule of the Texas Advance Directives Act (Section 166.046 of the Health and Safety Code), patients rendered futile face death by hospital committee—no trial, no second opinion, no due process, no appeal, and worse—no real reason.

The hospital committee and/or doctor making this determination are shrouded in full legal immunity. The death of the patient is hastened because the committee feels that his or her quality of life is too low. The very people paid by the hospital to care for the patient are the same people assigned by the hospital to serve on these so-called “ethics committees.”

Baby Tinslee is almost two years old and struggles with a congenital heart condition. In November 2019, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth moved to withdraw her treatment, including a ventilator, without which the young child would die. Baby Tinslee’s mother would not acquiesce to the hospital, so Cook invoked the statutory 10-day process to euthanize the child.

The first judge protected Baby Tinslee, but Cook has not relented, even though Baby Tinslee is conscious and interactive when not sedated. The opinions spewed in December 2019 by those moving to “end her [alleged]suffering” are that she would not live long even with medical interventions. If that were so, why rush to kill her? If she or any other patient with a disability is actively dying, why hurry to withdraw treatment?

Advocates for disability rights have been asking these questions for decades. Health care providers often stereotype individuals with disabilities with a low quality of life; such misperception results in discriminatory determinations that life-sustaining medical care is futile and should be denied or withdrawn. Rather than medical judgments about the futility or efficacy of the actual treatment, the actual person needing treatment is rendered futile, which is a subjective value judgment, not a medical analysis.

In late July, the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas held the Texas futility law unconstitutional, thereby further protecting Tinslee. Cook Children’s Medical Center still persisted, hoping for a reversal by SCOTX of the appellate court’s ruling before a trial on the constitutionality of the 10-Day Rule. 

Disability advocacy organizations Not Dead Yet, National ADAPT, ADAPT of Texas, Protect TX Fragile Kids, and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network joined and submitted an amicus brief to SCOTX for Baby Tinslee. The brief was filed on October 8 by Texas health care and civil rights attorney Michelle Hayes, a practicing Catholic from Notre Dame Law School (the same school from which Amy Coney Barrett earned her law degree). Other signers of the brief are the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO), the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, Deacon Keith Fournier (also a Catholic attorney), the True Texas Project, Right to Life of East Texas, the Common Good Foundation, and Grassroots America We the People.

Two Texas Catholic bishops who have consistently rebuked the 10-Day Rule also signed the brief: Most Reverend Joseph E. Strickland, Bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, and Most Reverend René H. Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi. Bishop Gracida cited then-Pope John Paul II: “Every medical action must always have its object—intended by the moral agent—the promotion of life and never the pursuit of death.” Address to the Italian Catholic Doctors Association (28 December 1978): Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, 1 (1978), 438.

The brief notes that Governor Greg Abbott, also a practicing Catholic, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a joint statement and their own brief earlier this year in defense of Baby Tinslee.  Governor Abbott is a former district court judge and a former SCOTX justice. As Governor, he has appointed several of the justices who currently serve on the SCOTX and who participated in the decision to decline review. …

Baby Tinslee’s case now returns to the district court, which will consider these questions:

  • Are the rights of Baby Tinslee being violated?
  • Should a hospital have unilateral authority to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment from a patient against the will of the patient/surrogate?
  • Do patients have any due process rights in these situations?
  • Is the 10-Day Rule of the Texas Advance Directives Act unconstitutional?

The date of the trial has not been set by the 48th District Court over which Judge Sandee Marion presides. Cook Children’s must continue treating Baby Tinslee throughout the waiting period and the trial.

Tinslee’s case spotlights judicial philosophy; in other words, the judge could rule according to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and due process rights, or she may grant rights to a hospital to decide who lives and dies. There are many possible outcomes, but whatever decision is issued, this judicial decision will impact EVERY hospitalized patient in Texas.

A single judge could decide if Baby Tinslee lives or dies.

Judges matter.

Categories: Judicial