Roughly one and a half years after Trinity Lewis began her fight against Fort Worth-based Cook Children’s Medical Center (CCMC), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor by rejecting CCMC’s preliminary plea to pull the plug on her daughter Tinslee’s life, just before her second birthday.
The case now returns to the lower district court for final adjudication on the merits. A trial date has not yet been set.
Trinity’s struggle began in August 2019 when she requested CCMC to give Tinslee a tracheotomy in order to transition her to receiving home health care. She also received second and third opinions from doctors about her daughter’s condition, which conflicted with CCMC’s diagnosis.
“Since Cooks has refused to perform a tracheotomy for my daughter, I ask that they uphold their offer of giving emergency privileges to other physicians who can perform a tracheotomy,” Lewis said at the time. “That would help transition Tinslee out of the hospital and home on palliative care.”
CCMC denied the Lewises requests and instead gave her a letter Oct. 31, 2019, stating it would remove Tinslee’s ventilator in 10 days, effectively killing her. On Jan. 2, 2020, a judge ruled CCMC could remove it. But her mother fought on, and ultimately all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court one year later, and Tinslee is still alive.
At the next trial, the judge will decide on whether Tinslee’s rights were violated, if a hospital can unilaterally withdraw life-sustaining treatment from a patient against the will of the patient’s surrogate, and whether or not the 10-day rule of the Texas Advance Directives Act (Section 166.046 Health & Safety Code) is unconstitutional.
The 10-day rule was signed into law by former Gov. George W. Bush in 1999 and heavily backed by two of the most powerful lobbying groups in Austin, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Medical Association.
The statute allows physicians who decide to no longer offer treatment, with an ethics or medical committee affirming the decision, to discontinue providing life-sustaining treatment for a patient unless they are mandated by a court to do so. The law stipulates that they provide 10-days notice in writing before terminating care, which could include removing a patient’s breathing or feeding tubes or dialysis. The law also protects the medical facility from being sued for malpractice.
The Texas law is “unprecedented, unconstitutional, and unethical,” Texas Right to Life’s Legislative Director, John Seago, said. The group is a patient advocate to Trinity and many other families.
Had the 86th Legislature amended the 1999 statute, Texas law could have been brought in line with 11 other states’ legal frameworks, Texas Right to Life told The Center Square. These laws allow more than 10 days for a family to find alternative arrangements for their loved ones when a hospital decides to end the patient’s life.
Legislators and grassroots leaders asked the governor to call a special session last year prior to the coronavirus lockdown to change the 10-day rule and received no response.
They are advocating that the issue be made a priority in the 87th Legislative Session.
In response to criticism and constituents demanding action at the Capitol last year, Gov. Greg Abbott joined Attorney General Ken Paxton in his amicus brief filed with the higher court. Previously, Paxton had filed an amicus brief in the lower court. He argues the 10-day rule “leads to the denial of constitutionally protected interests – the right to life and right to determine one’s medical treatment.
“When a patient has requested life-sustaining treatment, only to have it denied by a physician or health care facility, the physician and health care facility are denying the patient life for the period of time that he or she would have lived had the life-sustaining treatment been provided,” the brief states.
If the court rules in Tinslee’s favor, the hospital will not be allowed to remove her ventilator or prevent her from receiving medical treatment against her mother’s will.