PJI to Ninth Circuit: Doctors Do Not Have Broad Discretion to End Lives
San Francisco, CA–The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed its opening brief this week with a federal court of appeals on behalf of a mother whose toddler was removed from life support without her consent.
PJI represents Jonee Fonseca and Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF). Fonseca’s 2 year-old son Israel Stinson was declared brain dead in April, 2016, following an asthma attack. However, he continued to show signs of life and responded to his mother’s voice and touch, so she fought attempts by the hospital to disconnect his life support. PJI filed emergency briefing that prevented the hospital for several weeks from ending the child’s life until he could be moved.
Fonseca found doctors who believed he had a chance of recovery and were willing to treat Israel. He was moved to Guatemala in late May, 2016, where he received treatment and showed signs of improvement.
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.
Despite more emergency court action, the hospital turned off Israel’s ventilator and he died on August 25, 2016.
PJI has continued representing Israel’s mother, challenging 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.
On Monday, PJI filed its opening brief with the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Along with the brief, PJI filed more than 1,000 pages of documents from the prior court proceedings.
Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “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 anticipates oral argument in this case later this year—likely in summer or fall.