A comatose 7-month-old boy should remain on life support during the legal dispute between his court-appointed guardian and his parents, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Friday, less than an hour before hospital workers were to disconnect his breathing machine.
Matthew Stein is suspected of injuring his son, Aiden, while alone with him on March 15 at their Mansfield, Ohio, apartment, police said. Stein has not been charged and has denied harming or shaking Aiden.
The hospital where the baby has been treated fears that Stein wants to avoid a murder charge by keeping the boy alive.
The justices issued the order while they consider whether to accept the appeal from the parents of Aiden, who has been hospitalized with severe brain damage for almost three months at Akron Children's Hospital. He is blind, deaf and unaware of his surroundings. Next, attorneys from both sides must present arguments on whether the high court should take up the case.
"What's happening here is just a conflict of laws that needs to be resolved," said Edward Markovich, attorney for Matthew Stein and Arica Heimlich, both 21.
The Akron, Ohio-based 9th District Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower-court ruling that court-appointed guardian Ellen Kaforey may order removal of life support. But Judge Donna Carr wrote separately to say state law on withdrawing life support doesn't apply to minors, and the law on appointing guardians for children doesn't specifically address withdrawing life support.
The guardianship law covers all medical decisions, said Clair Dickinson, an attorney for the guardian.
Messages seeking comment were left Friday with Markovich, Kaforey and her attorneys. Matthew Stein's cell phone rang unanswered.
Stein and Heimlich should have final say on their son's care, Markovich argued, because the Richland County Juvenile Court has not ruled whether to end their parental rights. But the appeals court and Dickinson said the parents lost their ability to appeal on that issue when they consented to the guardianship in Summit County Probate Court.
Stein again denied shaking the baby in an interview Thursday with Fox News and said his son sucks his pacifier and responds to voices.
"Who are we to say that just because he's not socially acceptable that we should kill him?" Stein said. "Have we come to that in our society, that our hearts are so hardened that we have no love for people outside the norm?"
Doctors have found no activity in the baby's brain and any movements are reflexes, Dickinson said.
"The idea he would react to somebody's voice is, I believe, wishful thinking," he said.
Even with all possible medical care, a baby in Aiden's state would be expected to live 18 months at most, said Dr. Marcia Levetown, a pediatric specialist in end-of-life care issues in Houston.
Katherine Federle, a law professor at Ohio State University and director of the law school's Justice for Children Project, said the courts should stop thinking of Stein and Heimlich -- who has not been accused of harming Aiden -- as a single unit.
"The cleanest way for the court to look at it is to start from the premise that the mother has constitutional rights," she said. "I don't know how we override her wishes."