by Steven Ertelt
April 6, 2007
Austin, TX (LifeNews.com) — A federal judge on Wednesday refused to grant a temporary restraining order to save the life of Emilio Gonzales, a baby plagued by Leigh’s disease, an incurable disorder that causes the breakdown of the central nervous system.
Gonzales’ family has been fighting with an Austin hospital over a Texas law that allows it to give them just 10 days to find another place that will provide medical care after doctors there gave up hope of treating him.
Doctors at the Brackenridge Children’s Hospital decided to remove Emilio from life support and discontinue his medical treatments — leaving his mother Catarina with little hope.
It agreed to care for the 16-month old boy until April 10, but his family must find a new facility by then. Without the treatments, Emilio will die in a matter of hours.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life law firm, are working with Jerri Ward, Catarina’s lawyer, on the case.
They had asked for a restraining order that would have allowed the toddler to continue to receive medical treatment while his case moves forward in court. Although that was denied, the judge did say he will take the matter under advisement pending the outcome of the state court hearing set for Tuesday.
“The Children’s Hospital of Austin should do the right thing, and that is to make sure little Emilio gets the treatment he needs to live,” said Joshua Carden, and ADF-allied attorney working on the case, Gonzales v. Children’s Hospital of Austin, along with Ward.
“Instead, the hospital has betrayed this little boy by subjecting him to ‘death by vote.’ We are very disappointed that the court today refused to stop this insanity," he told LifeNews.com in a statement.
Pro-life advocates helping the Gonzales family are troubled that doctors are not certain in their diagnosis. They believe Emilio has Leigh’s Disease, a condition that is treated primarily through vitamin therapy. But on March 12, a hospital ethics committee voted behind closed doors to end Emilio’s treatment, deeming his life “futile.”
Under Texas law, a hospital is required to wait only 10 days before discontinuing treatment, to allow for a transfer to another hospital willing to admit the patient. Due to litigation, the 10-day window in Emilio’s case was extended until April 10; however, because of hospital bureaucracy and extensive paperwork, a successful transfer to another hospital is unlikely to occur in time to save Emilio’s life.
A state probate hearing on this case is scheduled to take place at the Travis County Courthouse on Tuesday–the same day the hospital plans to cease giving Emilio his treatments.
An outside nurse reviewing Emilio’s records noticed that the hospital had removed the boy’s vitamin treatments during the initial 10-day period, bringing up concerns among some that the hospital could be rushing to end the toddler’s life to avoid discovery of malpractice in the boy’s treatment.
“People who could profit from an innocent person’s death should not get to decide when it occurs. Whatever the hospital’s motives are for pushing to end Emilio’s treatment, a child’s life outweighs all other concerns–whether it’s to cut costs, or for convenience, or something else,” said Carden. “And furthermore, the twisted state law that allows hospitals to exterminate disabled children over their parents’ wishes needs to be changed.”
During the ordeal, Catarina has appeared at the state capitol with lawmakers who are considering a bill to change the futile care law and require medical facilities to keep lifesaving medical treatment in place while families find another hospital to care for their loved ones.
In this case, hospitals in Texas, Oklahoma, California and New York have all turned down taking Emilio as a patient and Michael Regier, a Seton Hospital Network spokesman, says the medical center tried to find other places without success. Groups such as National Right to Life and Texas Right to Life have been desperately trying to find other options for Emilio.
If he has the condition, the Leigh’s disease will eventually take Emilio’s life, but the youngster is still alive and his mother believes he’s entitled to appropriate medical care and attention until then.
"Some days he will hear you, some days he won’t," she told KENS-TV about her son’s condition. "He’s not completely brain dead."
Ward has been instrumental in helping families of patients such as Andrea Clark who have battled the futile care law.
"The fact of this matter is, even if this progressive disease will cause him eventually to die … He’s not dead yet. Dying is not being dead," Ward told the television station.
Melanie Childlers, one of Andrea Clark’s sisters, has gotten involved with the Gonzales case and says she thinks an in-house group of physicians at Brackenridge, called the Pediatric Physicians Alliance of Central Texas, wanted Emilio to die.
She says there is no definitive test for Leigh’s disease, that the doctors diagnosed Emilio based on symptoms alone, and that the 10 day period to transfer Emilio expires Friday.
She also says doctors at the hospital decided to take him off of the thiamin treatment normally used in patients with the disease. They resumed it only when Ward insisted that they put him back on the treatment.
"These children can live, and often do live, to be about six or seven years of age," Childers said. "This child is sixteen months old and these physicians have decided not to give him a chance at the rest of his life, despite his family’s wishes to the contrary."
You can express your views in this case by calling Brackenridge Children’s Hospital in Austin at 512-324-8000.