Court blocks hospital's attempt to end toddler's life support
CALIFORNIA (BP) -- A federal appeals court on May 20 ruled the family of a toddler clinging to life in a California hospital could have more time to find a new facility to care for him. Doctors declared 2-year-old Israel Stinson brain dead after an asthma attack deprived him of oxygen last month. But his parents dispute his diagnosis and want to give him a chance to recover.
Jonee Fonseca and Nate Stinson have been fighting to get care for Israel since his hospitalization, but doctors gave up, issuing a death certificate and announcing plans to remove his life support. Despite the parents' protest, the doctors' actions were completely legal.
"The law in California allows physicians, upon making determination of brain death, to simply carry it out, and the parents don't have to be consulted or notified at any time. We have a real problem with that," said Brad Dacus, president of The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which represents the Stinson family.
Israel's medical ordeal began with an asthma attack on April 1. His parents took him to Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, where hospital staff put him on a breathing machine. But Israel lost consciousness and was rushed to the University of California Davis Medical Center (UC Davis) in Sacramento, which has a pediatric ward.
By the time he arrived, Israel was unable to breathe on his own. On April 3, suspecting he had brain damage, a UC Davis nurse contacted an organ donor company, according to PJI. After that, doctors decided to test the toddler's brain function.
Rounds of tests for brain damage followed, including an apnea test, "during which the ventilator was removed and Israel's CO2 levels were allowed to rise to dangerous levels in order to provoke a respiratory response," according to the PJI report. "However, Israel was not comatose. The apnea test should never be done on patients who are not comatose, as the exam itself can lead to brain damage."
On April 11, Stinson was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, where he underwent further brain testing. Three days later, the hospital issued a death certificate.
All the while, Fonseca has advocated for her son's care, specifically asking Kaiser staff to provide essential nutrients through a feeding tube.
PJI describes Fonseca as a "devout Christian" who believes in God's healing power. She insists life does not end with brain waves but heart beats.
"I don't feel that it's anybody's right to say just because we're not getting response from the brain right now, that we have to bury him," Fonseca told LifeSiteNews. "When you are a mother, and you have a special connection -- he's my first-born son -- you don't give up. My God is telling me something else. Who is a doctor to go against God?"
But Kaiser staff ignored her pleas, denying the toddler anything except a sugar solution. The hospital issued a death certificate on April 14 and planned to disconnect his breathing machine, even though a video from a few days before showed Israel responding to his mother's voice and touch.
"When you're ready, baby, you wake up, okay?" Fonseca says to her son in the video as she strokes his thick, dark curls, tickles his neck and ribs. "We gotta get out of here. Whenever you're ready, okay?"
At her touch, the toddler slowly squirms. At other times, Fonseca reported, he squeezed her finger.
Fonseca reached out to the Life Legal Defense Foundation, and procured a temporary restraining order to keep her son on life support. PJI later joined the fight to keep Israel alive.
On May 13, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller denied their request for a preliminary injunction but extended the restraining order to May 20, at which point Kaiser planned to "pull the plug," according to PJI.
The law firm filed an emergency motion with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 19 requesting Kaiser leave Israel on a ventilator and insert a feeding tube. In its ruling Friday, the court did not set a deadline for ending the child's care but required the family to make regular reports on its progress finding a new hospital willing to take him.
In a similar case, a nose and throat surgery in 2013 went awry and left 13-year-old Jahi McMath brain damaged. The hospital, also located in California, sought to remove her life support and issued a death certificate against her parents' wishes. McMath's parents were able to move her to New Jersey, where parents can overrule a doctor's orders.
Despite doctors' insistence that brain death is final, some patients do recover from vegetative states. In 2007, Jesse Ramirez, a veteran that doctors said would not recover from a brain injury, awoke and walked out of the hospital. Kate Adamson, diagnosed as vegetative after a stroke in 1995, is now a motivational speaker. And last year, Joey Cronin started breathing on his own after doctors declared him brain dead.
"The system itself needs the checks and balances," Dacus said. "The system itself does not respect the rights of parents, nor does it respect their religious beliefs and convictions, or how their child should be properly dealt with."
Stinson's parents just want him transferred to another hospital.
"They're just saying, 'Hey look, we know where you're coming from. Just let us have our child and be cared for by someone who appreciates life,'" Dacus said.