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EMILIO May-22-2007 (540 words) Follow-up. xxxn

Texas boy on life support dies; case prompted debate on medical care

By Catholic News Service

AUSTIN, Texas (CNS) -- Emilio Gonzales, a 19-month-old boy whose care became the focus of a debate over what constituted proportionate medical care, died May 19 at Children's Hospital of Austin.

Emilio, who had been blind and deaf since birth, was admitted to the hospital Dec. 27 with a collapsed lung. He was also diagnosed with Leigh's disease, an incurable disease which causes the central nervous system to break down.

Emilio's mother, Catarina Gonzales, had obtained a restraining order forcing Children's Hospital of Austin to keep her son on a respirator. He was on life support when he died.

Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, in Rome for a meeting, said in a May 20 statement: "I join with Catarina and her family in accompanying Emilio with prayer as he goes home to the Lord. I pledge my prayers for Catarina and her family in this time of loss and as I pray at the tomb of Pope John Paul II this week in Rome, I will ask him to accompany Emilio and his family with his prayers."

Children's Hospital had argued that Emilio's condition was such that he should be given "comfort care" -- water, pain medication and other ordinary medical treatment. Children's Hospital is part of a 31-facility Catholic health system in central Texas hospitals called the Seton Family of Hospitals.

The legal wrangle added to the debate over when to use life-sustaining care and when such care is considered futile treatment.

Bishop Aymond had said in an April 15 statement that moving to comfort care "would be morally acceptable" in Emilio's case. Continued extraordinary treatment, he said then, "will only result in greater pain for Emilio, without curing or improving the condition from which he suffers."

Texas law permits hospitals to override the wishes of patients or their families and provide comfort care rather than extraordinary measures they deem "inappropriate," but the law also gives patients and families the option of transferring to a hospital willing to provide extraordinary care.

Since the law was signed in 1999 by then-Gov. George W. Bush, transfers have been rare. Catarina Gonzales was trying to get a Florida hospital to take her son at the time he died.

In his April statement, Bishop Aymond noted that some compared Emilio's situation to that of Terri Schindler Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who became the center of a highly publicized debate on end-of-life issues and who died in March 2005 after a court ordered her feeding tube be removed. But he said the two cases "are very different; in the Schiavo case ordinary means -- food and water -- were withdrawn, which caused her death."

Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, though, had asserted in a statement that the hospital was wrong to try to take away Emilio's life support. "That a hospital 'ethics' committee would vote to end the life of a child against his mother's wishes is unbelievable," Vitadamo said in her April 20 statement.

A funeral Mass for Emilio was to be celebrated May 23 at St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Lockhart with burial immediately following at St. Mary Cemetery in Lockhart.


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