- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

SANTA ANA, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) — A child who has been on life support since being severely shaken more than a year ago should be allowed to die, a California appeals court said Monday in a ruling that could lead to a murder charge being filed against the toddler's father.

The 4th District Court of Appeals in Orange County upheld a juvenile court ruling that Moises Ibarra's son, Christopher, should be taken off life support and allowed to die, which would leave Ibarra open to a murder charge that could fetch him a sentence of life in prison.

"We appreciate the significance of our decision to Christopher, now 1 1/2 years old," the three-judge panel said in a unanimous ruling. "We reach our conclusions with his fate in our minds and our hearts."

"In making his ruling in the juvenile court, Judge (Richard) Behn said, 'I would ask you to keep Christopher in your prayers and thoughts, as I have done for these last three or four months,'" the opinion said. "We join in Judge Behn's sentiments and wish Christopher peace and serenity."

Ibarra has been in the Orange County jail since Dec. 17, 2001, when he was arrested for allegedly violently shaking his 3-month-old infant son during a domestic disturbance incident at the apartment in Cypress where he lived with Tamara Sepulvada, the child's mother.

Christopher has been in a vegetative coma since that time and doctors do not expect him to recover.

Sepulvada sought to have the comatose child taken off life support, however it was determined at an earlier hearing that Sepulvada had not or could not protect her child, so Christopher was named a dependent of the juvenile court.

Ibarra then challenged the authority of the juvenile court to approve such a grave action involving his son without his parental consent. He also contended that the Orange County Social Services Administration should have determined first if Sepulvada was mentally competent to make the request.

There had never been a precedent case in California involving removing a ward of the court from life support over the objections of a parent, although the appeals court agreed that juvenile courts in the state are responsible for acting in the child's best interest, even if it means allowing the child to die.

"Once the request to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment was made, the juvenile court had responsibility to fulfill its statutory obligation to protect the best interests of a child within its jurisdiction," the opinion said. "The juvenile court accepted and exercised its responsibility by rendering a decision that life-sustaining medical treatment should be withdrawn from Christopher, following a full evidentiary hearing. In doing so, the juvenile court acted with care, thoroughness and sensitivity."

The opinion pointed out that an attorney had been brought in to represent Christopher, and that keeping the child on a respirator would not ever lead to his recovery.

"Future medical treatment will be futile," the court said. "Even if life-sustaining efforts by machine continue, Christopher will succumb to complications of treatment."

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles.)

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