Death law unfazed by brainless baby Definition upheld in Fla., preventing organ donation

November 13, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Laura Campo and Justin Pearson hoped their baby's short and tortured life would bring a new definition of death, but the Florida Supreme Court has refused their wish and said Baby Theresa was indeed alive with only a stub of a brain.

And with her being alive, the doomed baby's vital organs could not be taken from her to help save the lives of others, the court said.

Ruling on an appeal filed while the nation debated the fate of the baby with no brain, Justice Gerald Kogan wrote yesterday for the unanimous court that "the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that [Baby Theresa] was 'alive.' She was not dead under Florida law, and no donation of her organs would have been legal."

Death occurs under Florida law when there is no function of the brain or brain stem. Though she was born without a scalp, skull or brain -- a condition called anencephaly -- Theresa had a stub of tissue that regulated her breathing and heartbeat.

Ms. Campo carried Theresa to term, and gave birth to her via Caesarean section solely so her organs could be given to other babies.

The baby died nine days later.

"There are babies born every day that are waiting for organs," said Ms. Campo, a cook and waitress from nearby Coral Springs. "It is much too late for my daughter, but I honestly believe in my heart that anencephalic babies should be able to donate their organs.

"They're not allowed to because of the way the law is written now," she said. "I just think that it needs to be redefined."

Yesterday's ruling upholds the original conclusion reached lasspring that the organs could be harvested as long as Baby Theresa was not endangered. The decision effectively prevented any organs from being transplanted.

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