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Nevada court to decide fate of woman on life-support

Money is behind a Reno hospital's rush to pull the life-support plug from a 20-year-old woman declared brain dead by doctors more than six months ago, a lawyer for the woman's family alleged Wednesday.

Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty set hearings Dec. 29 and Jan. 22 to rehear evidence in the case of Aden Hailu after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last month that the judge erred when she rejected the Hailu family's earlier request to order Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center to keep her alive.

During a 20-minute status hearing Wednesday, the two sides argued whether Hailu is in fact dead or alive. The judge refused the hospital lawyer's request to begin an evidentiary hearing the following day after the family's lawyer objected.

"It's not shocking that Saint Mary's wants to have this hearing in 24 hours," said David O'Mara, the family's lawyer. "Their whole purpose is to kill her as fast as they can so they don't have to spend money."

Hailu's father, Fanuel Gebreyes, has been waging a legal battle to force the hospital to treat her since doctors declared her brain dead on May 28.

The freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno was hospitalized April 1 after complaining of abdominal pain. She suffered severe low blood pressure and a lack of oxygen to the brain during surgery to remove her appendix and explore the cause of the pain, and she never awoke from anesthesia, according to court documents.

In granting her father's appeal, the state Supreme Court ruled Nov. 16 that the hospital had failed to prove American Association of Neurology's brain-death guidelines cited by the doctors are acceptable medical standards in Nevada and conform with the state's Determination of Death Act.

"The Supreme Court says Aden is alive on this day," O'Mara said Wednesday. "Saint Mary's has not met the standard of brain dead."

"Saint Mary's has the burden to treat her and if they won't they are required under law to find someone who will," he said.

William Peterson, the hospital's lawyer, said he intends to file supplemental declarations from experts to "show the ventilator and IV should be removed because Aden Hailu is in fact brain dead."

He wants the judge to order her father to consent to another round of brain wave tests to determine if they satisfy the state's criteria for clinical death. Gebreyes has refused, instead insisting she be given thyroid medication and a tracheostomy so she can receive nutrition through her throat, not just fluids through an IV.

"Aden needs treatment, not tests of her brain," Gebreyes wrote in a Nov. 20 letter to the hospital submitted as evidence in the case.

Saint Mary's doctors said three electroencephalogram, or EEG, tests that were conducted in early April showed brain function but that ended in mid-April.

Peterson said new tests are necessary to satisfy the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law.

"They claim we can't have brain death without a flat line on the EEG," he said.

O'Mara told reporters after the hearing that Hailu's "condition is obviously not the best," but the family believes she can recover.

"She is alive and she is fighting for her life," he said. "If she doesn't receive treatment she will start deteriorating."

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