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October 20, 2020 (Texas Right to Life) — 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.

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. The death of the patient is hastened because the committee feels that his or her quality of life is too low

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 she is conscious and interactive when not sedated. Those moving to “end her [alleged] suffering” say 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.

In late July, the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas held the Texas futility law likely 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 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 Paull 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.

Predictably, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB), the lobbying and administrative arm for the Texas episcopacy, albeit with no canonical authority, sided with the hospital to euthanize Tinslee. The very church that prides herself on caring for the destitute and displaced has tightened ties to the pro-death medical lobby, smothering the disabled in that suffocating yoke. However, the TCCB can no longer present a unified position in support of the 10-Day Rule with Bishops Strickland and Gracida publicly opposing the law and working to protect Baby Tinslee’s Right to Life.

Catholic healthcare institutions constitute a concrete sign of the way in which the ecclesiastical community take care of the sick following the example of the Good Samaritan. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter “Samaritus bonus” on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life (22 September 2020), n. 9. 

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.

Published with permission from Texas Right to Life.