Trial date set in Tinslee Lewis case; court to rule on Fort Worth toddler’s treatment

·4 min read

A Tarrant County District Court set a trial date Tuesday to decide whether or not Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth can remove life-sustaining care from a 2-year-old at the hospital.

The trial over Tinslee Lewis’ life is scheduled to be heard before the 48th District Court of Tarrant County on Jan. 25.

Tinslee has received intensive care at the Fort Worth hospital for nearly her entire life. She was born premature and with a rare heart condition, and medical staff kept her alive through open heart surgery and a ventilator. When Tinslee was 5 months old, a hospital ethics committee authorized removal of her life-sustaining treatment. Her mother, Trinity Lewis, has been in a legal battle with the hospital ever since as she fights for the right to decide whether her daughter lives or dies.

Lewis said in a petition filed Sept. 1 that her daughter’s condition is improving and she is “significantly more stable and active than she was in 2019.”

The toddler “likes playing with her fingers, watching movies (especially Disney favorites Frozen and Moana), and enjoys having someone play and talk to her,” the petition says. “Recently, (Tinslee) has started smiling for the camera to the delight of her mother.”

Hospital officials have maintained since Tinslee’s birth in February 2019 that the child has — and will always have — a poor quality of life made worse by needless medical treatments. In court proceedings and motions, doctors testify that Tinslee has no chance of recovery, and each day is tortuous for her.

Under Texas law, the hospital has the legal right to decide whether or not to continue a patient’s care, even if it contradicts a family’s wishes. The Texas Advance Directives Act also protects the hospital from legal repercussions, such as lawsuits, for making the decision.

Lewis’ motion filed Sept. 1 not only argues Cook Children’s should not be able to unilaterally decide Tinslee’s future, but also makes a case against the Texas Advance Directives Act as a whole.

The law “allows doctors and hospitals the absolute authority and unfettered discretion to terminate life-sustaining treatment of any patient,” the petition says.

In April, the hospital asked the court to schedule the trial for July 2021, arguing that Tinslee “should not be forced to endure this fate for months on end while this matter continues its creep through the legal system.”

Lewis and her attorney asked for more time, saying the proposed July 26 trial date did not give them enough time to gather evidence and consult experts for the case. The family petitioned for the trial to be set in January — a request that the court granted on Tuesday.

History of Tinslee Lewis case

The legal fight surrounding Tinslee began nearly two years ago in October 2019, when Cook Children’s Ethics Committee voted unanimously to end Tinslee’s treatment. Under the Texas Advance Directives Act, the hospital is legally within its right to end treatment for a patient if the care is deemed futile.

Lewis, appalled at the decision, filed for a restraining order against the hospital in November 2019. A judge granted the injunction in November 2019, and the case has moved through multiple proceedings and appeals since then.

Tinslee’s case moved up through the courts, with each side appealing if the ruling was not in their favor. In January 2020, a judge ruled that Tinslee could be taken off life support after an emotional hearing in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth. In July 2020, the Second Appellate District of Texas in Fort Worth reversed that decision.

In October 2020, the Texas Supreme Court declined to review the hospital’s petition to take Tinslee off life support and in January, the federal Supreme Court rejected the hospital’s plea, as well.

The case now returns to the lower court for a final ruling. If the 48th District Court rules in favor of the hospital, medical staff can end Tinslee’s treatment. If the courts side with Tinslee’s mother, not only can the hospital not end her treatment, but the future of the Texas Advance Directives Act will also be called into question.

Supporters of the law say it allows physicians to make a difficult, but responsible, decision that families may not be able to accept. Those opposed say hospitals do not have the moral authority to decide who lives and dies.

The attorney for Cook Children’s, Amy Warr, argued at a previous hearing that physicians have a right to decline care for a patient if that care “causes suffering without medical benefit.”

Protect Texas’ Fragile Kids, anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life and Attorney General Ken Paxton are among those who have weighed in on Tinslee’s case and argued the statute is unconstitutional.

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