Family handout Wanda Hudson holds her son, Sun, whose illness was characterized by short arms, short legs and lungs that were too small, doctors say.
Baby dies after hospital removes breathing tube
Case is the first in which a judge allowed a hospital to discontinue care
By LEIGH HOPPER
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
The baby wore a cute blue outfit with a teddy bear covering his bottom. The 17-pound, nearly 6-month-old boy wiggled with eyes open, his mother said, and smacked his lips.
• • • • • "I talked to him, I told him that I loved him. Inside of me, my son is still alive."
Wanda Hudson , • • • • •
mother of Sun Hudson
Then at 2 p.m. Tuesday, a medical staffer at Texas Children's Hospital gently removed the breathing tube that had kept Sun Hudson alive since his birth Sept. 25. Cradled by his mother, he took a few breaths, and died.
"I talked to him, I told him that I loved him. Inside of me, my son is still alive," Wanda Hudson told reporters afterward. "This hospital was considered a miracle hospital. When it came to my son, they gave up in six months. ... They made a terrible mistake."
Sun's death marks the first time a U.S. judge has allowed a hospital to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes, according to bioethical experts. A similar case involving a 68-year-old man in a vegetative state at another Houston hospital is before a court now.
"It's sad this thing dragged on for so long. We all feel it's unfair, that a child doesn't have a chance to develop and thrive," said William Winslade, a bioethicist and lawyer who is a professor at the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Paraphrasing the late Catholic theologian and ethicist Richard McCormick, Winslade added, "This isn't murder. It's mercy, and it's appropriate to be merciful in that way. It's not killing, it's stopping pointless treatment."
The hospital's description of Sun — that he was motionless and sedated for comfort — has differed sharply from the mother's. Since February, the hospital has blocked the media from Hudson's invitation to see the baby, citing privacy concerns.
"I wanted y'all to see my son for yourself," Hudson told reporters. "So you could see he was actually moving around. He was conscious."
On Feb. 16, Harris County Probate Court Judge William C. McCulloch made the landmark decision to lift restrictions preventing Texas Children's from discontinuing care. However, an appeal by Hudson's attorney, Mario Caballero, and a procedural error on McCulloch's part prevented the hospital from acting for four weeks.
Texas law allows hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining care, even if a patient's family members disagree. A doctor's recommendation must be approved by a hospital's ethics committee, and the family must be given 10 days from written notice of the decision to try and locate another facility for the patient.
Texas Children's said it contacted 40 facilities with newborn intensive care units, but none would accept Sun. Without legal delays, Sun's care would have ended Nov. 28.
Sun was born with a fatal form of dwarfism characterized by short arms, short legs and lungs too tiny, doctors said. Nearly all babies born with the incurable condition, often diagnosed in utero, die shortly after birth, genetic counselors say.
Sun was delivered full term at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, but Hudson, 33, said she had no prenatal care during which his condition might have been discovered.
He was put on a ventilator while doctors figured out what was wrong with him, and Hudson refused when doctors recommended withdrawing treatment.
Texas Children's contended that continuing care for Sun was medically inappropriate, prolonged suffering and violated physician ethics. Hudson argued her son just needed more time to grow and be weaned from the ventilator.
Another case involving a patient on life support — a 68-year-old man in a chronic vegetative state whose family wants to stop St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital from turning off his ventilator — was scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Houston-based 1st Court of Appeals. But the case was transferred to the 14th Court of Appeals, which promptly issued a temporary injunction ordering St. Luke's not to remove the man's life support. No hearing date has been set.