California’s law defining brain death and stipulating when doctors can remove life support from a patient was the target of a court hearing in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week.
The case was brought by Jonee Fonseca, whose infant, Israel Stinson, was determined to be brain dead by doctors who then turned off life support for him.
A lawyer for Fonseca, Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute, said the state’s Uniform Determination of Death Act allowing doctors to be both “judge and executioner” should be thrown out.
After 40 minutes of arguments Monday, the judges on the 9th Circuit panel said they would review the evidence.
WND reported last year the dispute centers on a diagnosis of PVS, persistent vegetative state, in which a patient is comatose but still shows signs of life. The hospital turned off life support for 2-year-old Israel Stinson because a death certificate had been issued.
The case followed by only months a ruling in a similar case in California that allowed a malpractice lawsuit against a hospital to move forward even though a death certificate had been issued for teenager Jahi McMath.
McMath later succumbed to other health threats even as her case moved forward in the courts.
In the Stinson case, the brief filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concedes the boy is dead.
“No human power can call him back to life,” the filing states. “But his dignity can be reclaimed, his family’s fundamental rights to self-determination restored, and the statues that provided authority for the taking of his life rescinded.”
The complaint challenges the application of the state’s Uniform Determination of Death Act by Kaiser, arguing the boy “continued to show signs of life and responded to his mother’s voice and touch.”
He had suffered an asthma attack early in 2016 and doctors pronounced him dead. His mother kept him on life support, and when doctors sought to disconnect him, she moved him to Guatemala for treatment.
According to the complaint, he “remained biological alive with a chance of recovery.”
“In the late summer of 2016, Israel’s family was led to believe he could receive treatment at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and brought him back to the United States. But when the hospital learned that the state had issued a death certificate months earlier, they sought to terminate life support. The hospital would not permit an independent examination by an eminent doctor from UCLA who was prepared to assist the family,” Pacific Justice said.
The boy was moved to Kaiser, and then the hospital obtained permission to disconnect him from life support. Even as “an attorney frantically raced to the Second District Court of Appeals,” he was cut off from life support.
“As that attorney was handing a clerk his credit card to process payment for an appeal and request for stay, the hospital forcibly removed life support and the child expired.”
PJI then represented Israel’s mother in her challenge to the constitutionality of state laws that take away life-and-death decisions from parents.
A federal court in Sacramento dismissed the case, holding that the state cannot be held responsible for its determination-of-death laws, because doctors have “broad and legitimate discretion” to end patients’ life support, PJI said.
“What happened to our client was every parent’s worst nightmare. To see her son fighting for life while two different hospitals fought – and ultimately succeeded – in ending his life was an excruciating and unimaginable horror. This should never happen to another family, and that’s why we are challenging the state laws that facilitated this deprivation of life without due process. Doctors do not have broad discretion to end patients’ lives without their consent,” PJI said.
Courthouse News Service reported the judges on the 9th Circuit “pressed whether the family has any pending insurance claims or other financial obligations that could be affected by an eventual ruling. Fonseca wants the state to amend the date on Israel’s death certificate and have the lawsuit remanded to federal court in Sacramento for consideration on the merits.”
McReynolds said that, to his knowledge, there were no insurance claims.
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Clifton, on the panel, said it’s certainly possible that the law played a role in the doctors’ assessments.