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After court rules against parents, toddler is taken off life support

After court rules against parents, toddler is taken off life support
Two-year-old Israel Stinson passed away after he was taken off a breathing ventilator Thursday. (Alexandra Snyder / Life Legal Defense Foundation)

Two year-old Israel Stinson, the curly-haired, angelic-looking toddler whose fight for life gained international attention, died Thursday after he was removed from a breathing ventilator against his parents wishes.

Now, supporters of the family are questioning why a Los Angeles hospital moved so quickly to remove him from life support immediately after a judge upheld the decision.

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Israel's parents, Jonee Fonseca and Nathaniel Stinson, sought an injunction Aug. 18 to prevent Children's Hospital of Los Angeles from taking action while they rushed to make arrangements to put him in home care.

On Tuesday, the hospital informed Israel's mother that they would file a motion to oppose the injunction, and on Thursday the motion was filed. The family's struggle to save Israel ended when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Amy D. Hogue ruled in favor of the hospital's decision, and immediately following the ruling, Israel's ventilator was removed.

"I was on the phone with his mother when the doctors disconnected him," Alexandra Snyder, an attorney with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said Friday. The pro-life group is representing Israel's family pro bono. "They were in such a hurry to do it, they didn't even sit down and explain what was going on."

Representatives of the  hospital declined a request to comment citing  privacy regulations.

The family is "devastated," Snyder said. "They lost their son yesterday after a long, long battle for him and for his life, so they are understandably heartbroken."

The fight for Israel Stinson's life began on April 1 when the Vacaville toddler experienced a severe asthma attack and a heart attack that limited oxygen flow to his brain, leaving him in a coma.  Doctors at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center in Sacramento declared the boy brain dead and advised that he be removed from life support.

But Israel's parents disagreed.  Doctors dismissed the boy's small movements as involuntary muscle twitches, but the parents saw them as signs of life.

"Israel's medical chart at Kaiser said he was deceased. But Israel is ALIVE!" wrote Fonseca, 23, in a GoFundMe.com post. "God is telling me not to let go."

Israel's parents, who also have a 1-year-old daughter, sought donations from strangers to help them move their son to a different facility. Their plan was to eventually take Israel home and care for him, but first the boy needed operations to insert feeding and breathing tubes, which Kaiser hospital refused to perform.

While they gathered donations, the parents fought the hospital in court to keep Israel on life support.

"We believe that we should have the last say over our son's life, not a government building or not a corporation," Stinson, 28, said in an April 29 video he and his wife posted. "And we believe our son is still alive."

After a federal judge rejected the family's lawsuit May 13, they flew Israel to a private hospital in Guatemala where doctors were willing to give him breathing and feeding tubes. Until that point, Israel had been surviving on a diet of dextrose, or sugar, according to his mother.

Fonseca wrote in an online post that doctors in Guatemala said the boy's condition was improving and that he was not in fact brain dead. They performed EEG, or electroencephalogram, tests and detected slight electrical activity in Israel's brain as well as movement in his pupils, which gave Fonseca and Stinson hope.

Then, after about three months, Israel was accepted as a patient at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. The family was able to return to the United States and checked the boy into the hospital Aug. 8.

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Soon however, Fonseca and Stinson's worst fears were realized when the Los Angeles hospital also determined that Israel should be taken off life support.

"I'm just baffled as to why the hospital would have agreed to take him for the sole reason of putting him to death," Snyder said. "They knew his condition when he came to the hospital."

Israel's case is one of many in recent years — such as that of a Texas woman whose husband sought to remove her from a ventilator and Oakland teenager Jahi McMath, whose family fought to keep the girl on life support after she was declared brain dead — that have exposed wrenching disagreements between family members and hospital officials over the definition of death.

Many medical professionals as well as ethicists said the general public often fails to understand the difference between, for instance, a coma and brain death, which must be affirmed by a strict guidelines and tests.

Providing intensive care for children such as Israel on life support can cost thousands of dollars a day, according to some health professionals, who argue that such care, while seeming compassionate, can jeopardize the health of other critically ill children who could use those resources.

Snyder said lawmakers should review the circumstances under which an individual can be declared brain dead.

"If you can declare someone brain dead who has brain activity, then we need to revisit the guidelines for what that means," she said.

In rare cases, Snyder said children have recovered after being diagnosed.

"There are people who have recovered, and if that happens even once, you have to revisit it," she said.

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