The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered an unusual step in a lawsuit challenging a doctor’s decision to stop life support for a 2-year-old boy.
The case centers on the death of Israel Stinson, whose mother, Jonee Fonseca, had fought unsuccessfully for the life of her son.
She is represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, which said Friday that after six months of deliberations, the 9th Circuit announced in an unusual move it is looking beyond the procedural and jurisdictional issues addressed by the lower court.
The appeals court now wants to address the merits of parental rights and the right not to have life support removed against one’s wishes.
A ruling on those issues could have major implications across the nation, PJI said.
The legal group contends the state’s Uniform Determination of Death Act allowing doctors to be both “judge and executioner” should be thrown out.
It’s “one of the most heart-wrenching cases we’ve taken on in the last few years,” PJI said.
PJI explained it initially was able to intervene and spare the life of the boy in 2016 when Kaiser Permanente sought to remove him from life support, “even though other doctors believed he had a chance to recover, and his family felt compelled to keep fighting for him.”
“Our actions allowed the family to move him to Guatemala, where he received treatment for several weeks. The family then was told Israel could receive treatment in Los Angeles and brought him back to the United States. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles initially began treatment but stopped – and then turned off Israel’s life support, without even giving the family a chance to care for him at home as they were planning to do.”
The subsequent lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in Sacramento who ruled the mother didn’t not have standing to challenge government policies that deny parental rights.
The case then moved to the 9th Circuit, where PJI lawyer Matt McReynolds argued the case last winter.
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 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 filed 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.