HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, November 17, 2008

N.Y. Boy On Life Support in D.C. Dies

The Washington Post reports that the battle over whether to keep a 12-year-old New York boy on life support has ended, as the boy passed away early Saturday.  While doctors declared the boy legally dead after his brain activity ceased, his parents sought an order from the D.C. Superior Court to keep him on life-sustaining equipment at Children's National Medical Center.  N.C. Aizenman and Michael Alison Chandler write,

Gavel4The emotional legal battle over whether to keep a 12-year-old New York boy on life support at Children's National Medical Center ended early Saturday after the boy's heart stopped beating, an attorney for the boy's family said yesterday.

Motl Brody, who had been at the hospital in Northwest Washington with brain cancer since June 1, was buried near his home in Brooklyn yesterday after a funeral, said the family's attorney, Jeffrey I. Zuckerman.

Doctors had declared the boy legally dead Nov. 4 after his brain activity had ceased. But his parents, who are Orthodox Jews, said their faith does not define death on that basis and had sought an order from D.C. Superior Court to keep him on life-sustaining equipment.

Although the boy was kept on a ventilator to maintain breathing and was given intravenous drugs to keep up his blood pressure, pending a court decision, neither measure proved enough to sustain his heart.

Early Saturday, Motl's "heart stopped beating," Zuckerman said as he rode a train to Washington from the funeral. "In the end, nature took its course before the judicial system ran its course."

Motl, the third-eldest of seven siblings, had spoken of becoming a rabbi like his father, Eluzer Brody, and often wrote Hebrew poems that he sang at family functions in his soprano voice. He was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor six months ago and underwent surgery and other treatments.

Zuckerman said thousands of people from the close-knit Hasidic community attended the service, held outside the school the boy had attended in Brooklyn.

A court hearing scheduled for last week was postponed at the hospital's and family's request because Motl's condition had been worsening. "By Tuesday, we all knew it was a matter of hours or days," Zuckerman said.

Paula Darte, director of public relations for the hospital, declined to comment yesterday.

Motl Brody's uncle Yitzchak Halberstam said: "We are very grateful he was able to stay on life support until he died. We hope the case will sensitize the medical establishment to the importance of respecting any patient's religious beliefs regarding life and death."

The hospital received nearly 200 e-mails and phone calls on the case, mostly from New York residents urging the hospital not to give up on Motl. The public outpouring echoed debates over life support for Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan.

However, despite having profound brain damage, Schiavo and Quinlan maintained some brain function. Schiavo, who died in 2005 after being comatose for 15 years, occasionally appeared to follow movement with her eyes and smile and laugh. She and Quinlan, who died in 1985 after 10 years in a coma, were able to control breathing and maintain blood pressure and blood volume. Such actions are governed by the unconscious parts of the brain.

Motl was unable to control those passive functions.

According to experts in Jewish law, there is no consensus within the faith on the medical definition of death. Some Orthodox Jews base it on the absence of brain activity; others focus on whether the heart is beating.

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