A little Texas boy whose life became the center of a bitter debate over the right of physicians to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from terminal patients died from his illness Saturday night at the Children's Hospital of Austin, Texas, the Associated Press reported.
Nineteen-month-old Emilio Gonzales was believed to suffer from Leigh's disease, which destroys brain function and eventually results in the death of the patient. The child had been placed on a respirator and feeding tube in December after he was no longer able to breath on his own.
Emilio died in his mother's arms Saturday night, a statement by family attorney Jerri Ward said.
"God chose to take Emilio at this time," Ward said. "He left on God's terms. He left on the terms that Catarina felt were best for her son, which is to die when his body could no longer live."
"At least he did die when God took him and not because his tube was pulled," said Ward.
His young mother, Catarina Gonzales, had fought in court to prevent the boy's doctors from removing him from the respirator and withdrawing food and water from him, after the doctors declared there was no hope for the boy's recovery. Under a controversial Texas law known as the Futile Care Law, doctors can withdraw treatment from patients deemed terminal without the family's permission, after giving the family 10 days notice.
His mother said that while she knew her son would eventually die, she did not want doctors to hasten his death. Emilio smiled and turned his head when he heard voices, she said.
In April a judge agreed to temporarily block the hospital from ending life support for the boy.
The battle over Emilio's life gained national attention, with advocacy groups for the disabled and pro-life organizations campaigning for the child's right to life. Diane Coleman, president of the disabled-rights group Not Dead Yet, wrote to Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking him to order a "stay of execution" for Emilio, saying the state of Texas was offering the child less protections than a death row inmate would receive.
The Texas Senate approved legislation this month to change the law, giving families more time to find alternate care facilities before a hospital may end treatment.
The family has not requested an autopsy.