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Agreement Reached to Allow Comatose Baby To Die

October 24, 1986

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Parents and guardians of a baby who has been comatose since his father beat him have agreed the boy won’t be revived if his heart or breathing fail, attorneys said.

A ″do not resuscitate″ order was issued Thursday for 7-month-old Lance Steinhaus, who is in an irreversible coma, said David Peterson, an attorney for Redwood County welfare officials, who have legal custody of the baby.

″Should Lance have cardiac or respiratory difficulties, he should not be resuscitated, intubated nor placed on machines,″ Peterson said.

The agreement was reached after meetings between the child’s estranged parents and five attorneys.

Doctors have said that, under the agreement, Lance is likely to develop pneumonia or some other infection that could be fatal within weeks or months, although he could live for years.

The agreement said Lance will continue to receive nutrition, warmth, suctioning of fluids from his mouth and upper throat, and at least for the time being, antibiotics to fight some infections, lawyers said.

The baby is at the University of Minnesota Hospital, and doctors plan to move him to a hospice in St. Paul.

The child’s mother, Amy Wiederholt, 21, of Winsted, has argued since early summer for her son’s right to ″die with dignity.″ She said Thursday the agreement is ″what I wanted all along.″

Her estranged husband, Timothy Steinhaus, had asked that the boy be kept alive through aggressive medical measures.

Steinhaus, 26, is serving 10 years at Stillwater state prison after pleading guilty to first-degree assault on Lance. Steinhaus said he beat the 5-week-old infant on two successive days in late April when the baby would not stop crying.

Steinhaus gave his approval to the agreement by telephone from Stillwater prison.

County officials had blocked Ms. Wiederholt’s efforts to obtain a ″do not resuscitate″ order for the boy. Federal laws require aggressive treatment for diabled infants, but the requirement does not apply to infants who are irreversibly comatose.

A doctor’s testimony in August indicated Lance was in a ″persistent vegetative state.″

Doctors have said Lance does not require machines to aid his heartbeat or breathing, but he has been resuscitated once and has had to have a breathing tube inserted in his throat at least four times, doctors said.

District Judge George Harrelson ruled in September that it was unclear whether Lance’s condition was the same as being in a coma. At a subsequent hearing, however, Dr. Stephen Smith, a pediatric neurologist at Hennepin County Medical Center, testified that Lance is in a true coma.

Harrelson then ruled that Lance was irreversibly comatose and thus exempt from the aggressive medical care required by the 1984 federal laws.

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