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CHOP must keep 'brain-dead' N.J. boy on life support, judge rules

Areen Chakrabarti, 14, suffered severe smoke inhalation in an April 14 fire in his Burlington County home.

Areen Chakrabarti and his mother, Rumpa Banerjee.
Areen Chakrabarti and his mother, Rumpa Banerjee.Read moreRumpa Banerjee

A judge ruled Friday that Children's Hospital of Philadelphia must keep a gravely ill 14-year-old Burlington County boy on life support, pending additional hearings or at least until he can be transferred to another hospital.

"It is God's will that he should get a little more time," said a tearful Rumpa Banerjee, the boy's mother, in a phone interview after the ruling.

>>READ MORE: Parents of Alfie Evans, a British child on life support, say they'll work with doctors

Areen Chakrabarti, 14, suffered severe smoke inhalation in an April 14 fire in his Bordentown home. He was first sent to a Capital Health facility in New Jersey, then transferred the next day to CHOP, where physicians pronounced him "brain dead," said Christopher Bagnato, an attorney representing the family.

Soon after, the hospital requested consent from Banerjee to take the boy off life support, but she maintained that he responded to her touch, according to a brief Bagnato filed in the Court of Common Pleas.

On Tuesday, after Areen had spent more than a week at the hospital, a physician told Banerjee that if a neurological test confirmed brain death, the boy would be taken off life support against her wishes, the attorney's brief stated.

CHOP declined to comment on the case. Citing patient privacy laws, attorneys for the hospital obtained a ruling from Judge Abbe Fletman on Thursday that excluded the media or other members of the public from attending a hearing on the case.

>>READ MORE: Christine Flowers says the Alfie Evans case makes her grateful for Pennsylvania legislation on Down's children

Areen is autistic and amid the confusion of the fire, he ran upstairs instead of fleeing the burning house, Bagnato said.

The ruling from Fletman on Friday means the case now moves to Orphans Court, which in addition to being the venue for cases involving orphans, handles cases for individuals who are unable to manage their own affairs.

With the additional time granted by Fletman's ruling, the boy's family is looking for another hospital to take Areen, Bagnato said.

"They don't want him at CHOP, and CHOP wants him out," he said. "Now we are hoping that CHOP will be able to help my client and actually help facilitate the final location for the child."

Banerjee said Friday she rejects the hospital's diagnosis and thinks her son remains aware of her presence.

The wrenching question of who has the final say in removing a patient from life support has prompted court battles around the nation and abroad.

Charles P. Hehmeyer, an attorney not involved with the case, said Pennsylvania case law supports a parental right to decide when a child may be removed from life support. He cited a 1995 decision by a Dauphin County Common Pleas Court panel, Rideout vs. Hershey Medical Center.

"There is a state and federal constitutional right that parents can make these kinds of critical decisions about their children," said Hehmeyer, who specializes in medical practice cases.

If Areen had suffered brain death, that would mean an irreversible loss of all "clinical" brain function, including brain-stem reflexes and the urge to breathe, according to the nonprofit Dana Foundation.

That is more severe than the diagnosis given to another gravely ill boy in the news, British toddler Alfie Evans. Diagnosed with a fatal neurological disorder that has placed him in a "semi-vegetative state," Evans nevertheless was able to breathe on his own this week after a court allowed Alder Hey Children's Hospital to remove him from life support.