Fla. court rules on doomed infant Doctors can take baby's organs, as long as surgery doesn't kill her.

March 27, 1992|By Knight-Ridder

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Asked by lawyers to issue "a Solomon-like decision" in the case of Theresa Ann Pearson -- the baby born with no brain -- a circuit court judge in Fort Lauderdale did just that.

Judge Estella Moriarty ruled yesterday that doctors can take as many transplant organs as possible from the terminally ill infant as long as they don't kill her in the process.

In practical terms, the decision clears the way for only one kidney to be taken, a University of Miami transplant expert said. To remove the more valuable organs would kill the baby and violate the judge's ruling.

"She has no life," said her mother, Laura Campo, who attended yesterday's hearing with tears streaming down her face. "This doesn't make any sense."

With or without the donor surgery, Theresa most likely will die within a week, doctors say. Born Saturday morning with a defect known as anencephaly, she continued to cling to life last night with no skull or scalp and nothing but a stub of brain to keep her heart and lungs working.

Visibly moved by Ms. Campo's tears, the soft-spoken Judge Moriarty said she sympathized with the mother's desire to help other babies live by giving up her daughter's organs. But Judge Moriarty said state law was inflexible in its requirement that Theresa have no brain activity before she can be declared dead and all her organs taken.

"I love kids as much as anybody," testified Ms. Campo, 30, a waitress and the mother of three healthy children, as tears ran down her face. "If my kid can help another baby live, then that is what we want to do."

Judge Moriarty nonetheless was forced to agree with attorneys for the state and the hospital.

"Death is a fact," Judge Moriarty said, "not an opinion."

But by the time the law's definition of death is satisfied, Theresa's organs will be useless, testified Dr. Richard Beach, one of Theresa's doctors.

Theresa's father, Justin Pearson, said last night he was stunned by the decision.

"I don't think it's right," he said. "It's pretty clear what the right thing to do is."

Les Olson, director of organ procurement for the University of Miami, said a decision was to be made today whether to proceed with the kidney operation.

If Theresa dies, doctors probably would not take any other organs -- despite the fact that infant donor organs are the hardest to come by and 350 children nationwide need them, Mr. Olson said.

"That's a tough question," Mr. Olson said last night during a break in a conference on Theresa's fate. "We probably wouldn't do it because people would accuse us of having a slippery knife. We can't afford that public perception. Donor programs rely on trust."

Dr. Beach, a neonatologist at Broward General, said the ruling also leaves doctors with an ethical and legal dilemma to struggle with today.

"The judge said we can't do any surgery that is threatening to the baby's life," he said last night. "Well, the problem with that is that any surgery is inherently life-threatening. The entire decision is a gray area. I don't know what we'll do when the time comes."

Walter Campbell Jr., a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who agreed to handle Theresa's case without charge, said that if doctors don't perform the surgery, he most likely will appeal Judge Moriarty's decision and mount a full-scale court assault on the state law.

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