By John Jalsevac

November 24, 2009 ( – Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed an emergency motion in court Monday to save the life of a nine-month-old baby, Gabriel Palmer.  East Tennessee Children's Hospital had said that it might abandon his medical care against his mother's wishes, even though the child is stable and a doctor says he could live for a long time.

However, after the lawsuit was filed, doctors with the East Tennessee Children's Hospital (ETCH) changed their opposition to ongoing care for the baby and the ethics panel agreed. In response to the latest development, ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman said, “We are pleased at the ethics panel's decision and look forward to full resolution in writing so that Baby Gabriel's life will no longer be in danger.”

Baby Gabriel was born prematurely with club foot and narrow airway. Despite his disabilities, he flourished when he went home from the hospital in June. He was fed through a tube and received some oxygen and medications.

However, on an October weekend when the baby's regular doctors were unavailable, Catherine Palmer took her son to the ETCH emergency room because of breathing problems. After interventions by the medical staff, the baby went into shock, developed pulmonary vascular disease, and was placed on a respirator.

Despite the complications, Baby Gabriel is in stable condition, and an ETCH doctor determined he could live “a long while.” The child is alert, active, and responsive when not sedated. According to the Alliance Defense Fund, in recent days while awake, he spent time kicking his feet, tried to play with his stuffed animals, listened to his mother and grandmother, and responded to his favorite music.

However, ETCH recently began giving up on Baby Gabriel's care, and on Nov. 13, the head of ETCH's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Kevin Brinkman, told Palmer that the hospital was going to stop feeding him milk and giving him his medications, as well as disconnect his respirator, because the staff considered his care “futile.” Brinkman said a formal “ethics panel” meeting at 12 p.m. EST Monday would determine whether to stop treating Baby Gabriel, but he noted that the decision was already a foregone conclusion.

ETCH's policies declare that treatment can be withdrawn over the family's objections as soon as the ethics panel makes its decision.

At that point, however, the ADF intervened on Palmer's behalf.

“A disability should not be a death sentence. No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is not worth saving,” said Matt Bowman earlier this week. “Doctors at East Tennessee Children's Hospital need to do the right thing and make sure Baby Gabriel gets the treatment he needs to live. He is loved by his mother, is in stable condition, and could live for a long time.  The hospital's treatment – or lack thereof – of this helpless little boy is simply inhuman.”

The recent agreement between the hospital and Catherine Palmer in favor of continuing treatment for Gabriel has not yet been put in writing. However, ADF attorneys said they are withdrawing their motion for temporary restraining order but will not withdraw the complaint until a written agreement is finalized. Until then, the lawsuit is still active.