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Ruling Keeps Infant On Life Support

A Texas judge granted a family's request to keep their critically ill baby alive, ruling Tuesday that the boy should not yet be removed from life support as the hospital planned.

Children's Hospital of Austin has been caring for 17-month-old Emilio Gonzales since December, but it says its medical efforts are futile and the child is suffering. It invoked an unusual state law, signed by George W. Bush when he was governor, that lets hospitals make that life-and-death call with 10 days notice to the family.

Emilio's mother, Catarina Gonzales, 23, challenged the decision, and the judge agreed to block the hospital's move for at least nine more days.

"He may not live that long, but that's nobody's choice. That's my choice. And that's God's choice. Nobody can say, 'No we're going to take him off, that's it,'" Gonzales said. She says her only son is not unresponsive, and that he smiles and turns his head toward voices.

Doctors and a hospital ethics panel determined the treatment is causing the boy to suffer without providing any medical benefit, said Michael Regier, general counsel for the Seton Family of Hospitals, which includes the children's hospital.

Emilio is believed to have Leigh's Disease, a progressive illness that's difficult to diagnose. He cannot breathe on his own, must have nutrition and water pumped into him, and cannot swallow or make purposeful movements, Regier said. He said Emilio's higher-order brain functions are destroyed.

Probate Judge Guy Herman set another hearing for April 19 to consider Emilio's case.

The boy has health coverage through Medicaid, and the hospital contends money is not part of its decision.

The boy's family and the hospital have had difficulty finding another medical facility that will care for the boy, though Gonzales said Tuesday they had several promising leads.

"I'm really thankful that we got one week more," she said. "I believe that there's a hospital that is going to accept my son, and I know there is."

Texas is one of the few states with a timetable allowing hospitals to decide when to end life-sustaining treatment, according to studies cited by activist groups. Other states allow hospitals to cut off treatment but do not specify a time frame.

The Texas Legislature is considering changing the futile care law to remove the 10-day time limit.

"We're going through an appropriate debate on it, and until we get finalized I'm always going to come down on the side of life and the appropriate dignity for individuals as we go through end-of-life decisions," Gov. Rick Perry said.