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Judge Reverses Decision; Says Life-Sustaining Methods May Be Stopped

October 14, 1986

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. (AP) _ A judge Tuesday reversed a previous order and ruled that doctors need not use resuscitation or other ″heroic measures″ to keep alive a comatose and severely brain-damaged 6-month-old boy.

Judge George Harrelson, in an order in Redwood County District Court, said the baby is ″chronically and irreversibly comatose″ and that therefore, withholding treatment other than appropriate nutrition, hydration or medication would not constitute medical neglect.

Harrelson on Sept. 11 had ordered that the child, Lance Steinhaus, receive special life-sustaining care after a doctor described him as being in a ″persistent vegetative state.″ Harrelson said at the time that he was not convinced that the coma was irreversible.

Earlier this month a second doctor, Minneapolis pediatric neurosurgeon Stephen A. Smith, testifed that Lance is ″chronically and irreversibly comatose.″

Federal laws allow hospitals to withhold certain measures of care for an infant in an irreversible coma. Some anti-abortion, handicapped rights and medical groups viewed the case as the first national test of where those laws stand since the Supreme Court struck down the strict interpretations of those laws that were called ″Baby Doe″ regulations.

Lance, hospitalized at the University of Minnesota Hospital, has been in a coma since April, when he was severely beaten. His father, Timothy Steinhaus, 26, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault in the beatings and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Steinhaus, who said he lost control and struck his son when he would not stop crying, has said he wants the boy to be kept alive.

But the baby’s mother, Amy Wiederholt, 21, asked Harrelson to reconsider his earlier order that extreme medical measures be used to keep the infant alive. Ms. Wiederholt said she wanted her child to ″die with dignity.″

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