Monday, May 14, 2007

Guardian for child on life support sides with doctors

Legal brief on Emilio Gonzales' care says doctors, hospital have followed the law on plans to discontinue treatment.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A court-appointed guardian for Emilio Gonzales, an 18-month-old on life support at Children's Hospital of Austin, has filed a legal brief that backs the doctors and the hospital in their plans to stop treating the child — against his mother's wishes.

Emilio, who has been on a respirator at Children's Hospital since late December, will continue receiving treatment until Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman makes a final ruling on the dispute over the boy's care.

Herman postponed a hearing scheduled for Tuesday until May 30 at the request of attorneys because three witnesses whom lawyers for Children's Hospitals planned to call were unavailable.
The guardian ad litem, Austin lawyer Jody Helman, filed his 52-page brief with the court late Friday in anticipation of presenting his recommendations to Herman during the hearing.
The brief says the hospital and doctors have followed federal and state laws governing end-of-life care. It adds that "there is no constitutional right to medical treatment and Emilio does not have a fundamental right to receive life-sustaining treatment."

Helman's findings are likely to get strong consideration from the judge, because Herman chose Helman to investigate the case and make recommendations to the court.

Doctors say Emilio has Leigh's disease, a rare neurometabolic disorder that causes the central nervous system to collapse.

Emilio's mother, Catarina Gonzales of Lockhart, and her attorney, Jerri Ward, question that diagnosis, and Helman says in his brief that no definitive diagnosis has been made. Even so, doctors report that Emilio's brain is withering and that he is not responsive, a point also contested by his mother.

Gonzales, Ward and her co-counsel, Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock, believe that the doctors should continue treating Emilio. But doctors say that because Emilio has no hope of recovery and aggressive treatments are potentially painful, he should be allowed to die in peace.
Once doctors give notice that they want to stop treating a patient against the family's wishes, they can start a process in which the family has 10 days to transfer their loved one to another facility. The hospital and the court have given Gonzales and her supporters more time to find another facility, but months of searching have failed.

Helman's brief methodically attacks Ward's arguments that doctors and the hospital have violated the rights of Emilio and his mother by seeking to unhook him from the respirator.

Ward has accused doctors and the hospital of discrimination against the disabled and contends that the state law that allows doctors to overrule the treatment decisions of loved ones when conflicts arise is unconstitutional, among other allegations.

Helman's brief disappointed Ward.

"It's real surprising to me that a guardian ad litem would care more about the rights of doctors and the hospital than about Emilio," Ward said.

Michael Regier, general counsel for the Seton Family of Hospitals, which runs Children's Hospital, said he was "delighted the guardian's position on the legal issues are in sync with the hospital's."; 445-3619