Tot's Life In Judge's Hands

In what lawyers are calling a precedent-setting case, a Pennsylvania court will decide whether a 20-month-old baby can be declared brain-dead and can be taken off life support over the objections of his parents.

CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reports that Shirron Lewis has been on life support at a Pennsylvania hospital for 14 months since he was rushed there after his father allegedly shook him violently.

The father, Ronald Lewis, is in jail awaiting trial on child-abuse charges. Lewis, 43, who was watching little Shirron the night of the assault, said he didn't cause the injuries and doesn't know how it happened, defense attorney Wayne Punshon said.

The boy lies comatose - brain dead - blind and deaf with reportedly no chance of recovery

Delaware County Court Judge Joseph F. Battle is to decide Wednesday during a closed hearing whether to give legal custody of Shirron to the county's Children and Youth Services. If he agrees, he will then have to decide whether to allow the county to take the boy off life support, which doctors say will kill him.

The parents have objected on religious grounds so the judge will hear oral arguments on whether the parents or the county can determine Shirron's fate.

Medical ethicist Arthur Kaplan says parents do not always have the final say. "The principle you use to override that," he said, "is when they're asking for something not in the child's best interests - say, they refuse a blood transfusion on religious grounds when the child could be helped, or as is true in this case, medicine did all it can, there is no more possibility of prolonging life, you're basically prolonging dying."

For Ronald Lewis, ending his son's lift support could wind up in a murder charge. For now, the Delaware County prosecutor is preparing to try him on attempted murder. The trial is expected to start June 1.

But the prosecutor says that if Shirron dies, then it is likely that his father will face murder charges.

Lewis and Jackie Allen, Shirron's mother, said they believe only God can end a person's life and don't want a court to decide what is best for their child. The couple, who are engaged and lived together at the time of the incident, also have another infant.

In Nebraska, the state has been fighting to remove from life support a brain-dead 3-year-old girl who was violently shaken by her aunt in 1996.

The Nebraska Supreme Court sided with the state in December, and a hearing is scheduled Thursday in Omaha, Neb., to terminate the couple's parental rights and determine whether to remove the child from life support.