A state appeals court in Orange County ruled Monday that a comatose baby from Anaheim should be removed from the life support he’s been on since he suffered brain damage in an alleged beating by his father.
Wishing the boy “peace and serenity,” a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled just four days after hearing arguments in the case.
If upheld, the decision could lead to a murder charge against the father. Christopher Ibarra almost certainly will die without the ventilator, the boy’s doctors have said.
Christopher’s care has been the focus of a lengthy legal battle between his mother, who said she wants her son “to go to heaven,” and his father, who is facing child-abuse charges and was fighting to keep his son on life support.
The appeals court decision to remove Christopher from life support will not take effect for at least 30 days, giving attorneys for the boy’s father, Moises Ibarra, time to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
If the high court accepts the case, Christopher will remain on life support until the court rules.
Christopher has been in a hospital bed since December 2001, tubes from bedside machines filling his lungs with oxygen and his belly with nutrients. The length of the legal battle was not lost on the appeals court.
“We appreciate the significance of our decision to Christopher.... We reach our conclusions with his fate in our minds and our hearts,” Justice Richard Fybel wrote in the court’s opinion. “Christopher’s situation is hopeless. He is in a persistent vegetative state, and his condition is irreversible. He is suffering. He will continue in this condition indefinitely.”
John L. Dodd, the Tustin attorney representing Moises Ibarra, said he and his client will make a decision on a possible appeal within the next week. He unsuccessfully argued to the appeals court that a juvenile court judge who ordered life support turned off last year had overstepped his powers.
“They can make orders for the medical care of the child ... but there was no specific [law] that permitted the withdrawal of the medical care that results in the death of a child,” Dodd said.
No juvenile dependency court judge in California has ever issued a similar ruling. So the way Christopher’s case is resolved will probably set precedent for the state, attorneys said.
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said she does not expect the state Supreme Court to reverse course.
“There’s not much question about what’s in the best interests of the child,” Levenson said. “This isn’t a close case.”
Moises Ibarra carried the limp, lifeless body of his son, then 3 months old, into an Orange County hospital in December 2001.
After giving conflicting accounts about his son’s injuries, Ibarra admitted that he hit his son and tossed him against his crib, authorities said.
The father has been jailed on felony child abuse charges for more than one year. The charges carry a maximum term of 13 years, eight months in prison. If the child dies, he could face a murder charge and a possible life sentence.
Without the approval of both parents and social workers, doctors initially refused to terminate Christopher’s life support. The boy’s father refused to grant permission, saying he wanted to see if his son’s condition would improve.
At a court hearing last year, doctors described the boy’s prognosis as extraordinarily grim. They said he lies motionless in his crib throughout the day, his brittle bones prone to breaking.
Donna Chirco, the lawyer representing the boy’s mother, Tamara Sepulveda, said she was pleased that the appeals court acted swiftly.
“I think the justices appreciate the gravity of the situation that Christopher is suffering and a decision on what to do with him needs to be made as soon as possible,” Chirco said.
Sepulveda, who lives on a houseboat docked in Los Angeles Harbor, has been losing patience with the court system, her mother said.
“It’s really cruel. It’s gone too far as it is. He shouldn’t have any rights to appeal. He’s admitted the crime,” said Tamara’s mother, Susan Sepulveda. “We’re going to fight to the end for that baby boy.”