On Wednesday, less than a week before a hearing was scheduled for the case of Tinslee Lewis, a judge granted a motion issued by Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth to recuse Tarrant County Judge Alex Kim from overseeing the case after the hospital raised questions about Judge Kim’s impartiality.
Kim issued a temporary restraining order on November 10, just hours before 10-month-old Tinslee Lewis was scheduled to be taken off life support.
The order from Kim prevented Cook Children’s hospital from withdrawing treatment in accordance with the Texas 10-Day Rule.
The original order was scheduled to expire on November 22, after which time, a hearing was to be held.
On November 19, however, the restraining order was extended until December 10, giving the Lewis family additional time to find another facility to care for baby Tinslee.
Under the controversial Texas 10-Day Rule, as authorized by the Texas Advance Directives Act, hospitals that determine that there is not a path to recovery for a patient in their care are legally allowed to withdraw treatment after 10 days’ time after informing the family of the hospital administration’s decision.
The 10 days of advanced notice are intended to give the family time to find another medical facility willing to accept their loved one as a patient and/or to allow time for the family to seek a court injunction.
In the case of baby Tinslee, Cook Children’s Ethics Committee invoked the Texas 10-Day Rule at the end of October believing they had done all they could for the infant who has been in their care since her premature birth in February, despite objections and strong opposition from the Lewis family.
Suffering from a rare congenital heart condition called Ebstein’s anomaly, Tinslee requires a ventilator to breathe in addition to other medical devices that are able to replace the function of her heart and lungs.
The decision to stop treatment under the terms of the Texas Advance Directives Act was made by the Cook Children’s Medical Center’s Ethics Committee composed of hospital administrators and community members not employed by the facility.
At the end of November, following the extension of the original temporary restraining order on November 19, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief in which he voiced his opposition to the Texas 10-Day Directive and gave his support to Tinslee and the Lewis family.
“One of the core principles provided by the United States Constitution is that no person should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. This unconstitutional statute infringes on patients’ right to life and does not allow patients and their families sufficient notice and the opportunity to be heard before physicians override the rights of their patients,” Paxton says.
Following Cook Children’s decision, Texas Right to Life, a nonprofit pro-life organization providing legal counsel to the Lewis family, in conjunction with state representatives Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) and Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), implored the public to call hospital administrators and urge them not to remove baby Tinslee from life support.
Just hours before baby Tinslee was scheduled to be taken off of life support, the last-minute push proved successful, as Judge Kim signed a temporary restraining order effectively preventing the hospital from withdrawing treatment.
In their motion, Cook Children’s asserts that improper methods were employed when the family’s attorney, Joe Nixon, contacted Judge Kim to sign the initial temporary restraining order on November 10.
Additionally, Cook Children’s argue that Judge Kim’s past affiliations with Texas Right to Life and True Texas Project, two organizations that have publicly campaigned against the Texas 10-Day Directive, impede his ability to remain impartial.
The week of Thanksgiving, attorneys for Cook Children’s issued a subpoena to True Texas Project for documents and information related to endorsements and contributions made to Judge Kim’s campaign and for communications relating to the Tarrant County Judge.
A subpoena requesting similar documents and communications was also issued to Empower Texans, the high-profile conservative grassroots organization.
The filing also contends that Texas Right to Life collaborated with Texas State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) when searching for a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, though representatives from Texas Right to Life told The Texan that Nixon, the family’s attorney, was the one who contacted Judge Kim, not their organization.
After three hours of arguments, Judge David Peeples of the Fourth Administrative Judicial Region granted Cook Children’s motion to recuse Judge Kim, who was originally assigned to preside over the case.
“Today’s hearing is out of care and concern for Tinslee. We believe she deserves to have a judge with the appropriate judicial oversight and experience to review and assess her case fairly. We all share the same sense of compassion and concern for Tinslee and her family as they face a very difficult situation,“ Cook Children’s said in an official statement.
Following Judge Peeples’ decision, Nixon said he understands the court’s decision and that he does not believe it will affect Tinslee’s case moving forward.
“I think we’re going to be able to make a very strong argument that this statute deprives people of their right to life, their constitutional right to decide their medical future for themselves,” Nixon said after the verdict was delivered.
To date, an injunction hearing is scheduled to take place next Tuesday, December 10.
Since it was determined this week that a new judge is needed to preside over Tinslee’s case, it is uncertain if the hearing scheduled for next week will remain.
If the hearing is moved to a later day, the Lewis family could potentially have more time to find another facility to care for baby Tinslee.
Prior to this week’s verdict, the Lewis family was reportedly feeling hopeful and optimistic as new leads continued to surface about potential medical care providers for Tinslee.
Cook Children’s said at the end of November that they were working closely with the Lewis family and Texas Right to Life to find an alternate care provider despite believing that “further medical intervention is not in Tinslee’s best interest.”
The children’s hospital also claims to have reached out to more than 20 facilities, all of which they say support their decision to withdraw treatment.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.