Believing that court-mandated, life-sustaining treatment is causing harm to a child in its care, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth is attempting to resolve a highly publicized court case as quickly as possible.
The hospital is asking a Tarrant County district court for an expedited July 26 trial date in the lawsuit against Cook Children’s by Trinity Lewis and her daughter, identified in court documents as T.L. The child, born in February 2019 with a congenital cardiopulmonary defect, has been on life-sustaining treatment at the hospital her entire life.
Trinity Lewis’ court challenge, backed by Texas Right to Life, has thus far kept T.L. on life support. After an appeals-court decision – hotly disputed by medicine – on private physicians’ authority to make decisions on life-sustaining treatment, the case will now proceed in the trial court. And Cook Children’s latest filing says the “ongoing condition of T.L. and the impact of this case on her physical and mental condition” justifies a July trial date.
“Rather than focusing on T.L. – or even the legal issues presented here – a group of people are attempting to turn her situation into a public circus so that she can serve as a face for their fight to change Texas law,” Cook Children’s says in its filing. “However, in their zeal for a cause célèbre, they have doomed a little girl to a life of daily torture and pain for no justifiable reason. This child should not be forced to endure this fate for months on end while this matter continues its creep through the legal system.”
The Second Court of Appeals decided last year that private physicians and hospitals deciding whether to withdraw life-sustaining treatment are performing “state action,” using delegated power from the state “to regulate what is and is not a lawful means of the process of dying.” State actors must follow the due-process requirements in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the appeals court said Texas’ Advance Directives Act doesn’t provide that due process.
The Texas Medical Association and other organizations sharply criticized that decision. Along with the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, Texas Alliance for Life, and others, TMA filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Texas Supreme Court calling the ruling “a broadside constitutional attack” on the state’s advance directive law. But the decision stood after both the state’s high court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review it.
The Cook Children’s filing lays out wrenching detail about what T.L. is enduring as she remains on life-sustaining treatment, saying she “continues to suffer and her medical condition has continued to decline,” and detailing serious infections and deteriorating and stiffening muscles.
“T.L. continues to be in constant pain, and her care exacerbates her suffering,” the Cook Children’s filing says, adding that “absent a court ruling, this is the only future T.L. can look forward to: Spending day after day in needless agony until, one day, she suffers a dying event that she does not recover from.”
The Cook Children’s filing also says a quicker trial date is appropriate because there are few if any factual disputes in the case, which is “dominated by legal questions.” And whatever the court rules, Cook Children’s notes, “multiple appeals are likely to follow” the decision, exacerbating the time pressures in the case.