By Charlie Johnston
In most ways, things have been going very well for the Cronin family. For George and Susan, the top priority since getting young Joseph transferred to the hospital in New Jersey that is committed to working to get him better, has been to establish a new normalcy for the family, a new daily rhythm to anchor them. That has been moving along nicely.
When they first arrived in New Jersey from Texas, they stayed with George’s father, also named Joseph. Now they have gotten an apartment in a nice town with excellent schools. George was successful in getting transferred on his job as a truck mechanic for the U.S. Post Office. He started work this morning. It is worth remembering that, despite the erosion of our governmental institutions, they are still manned by people. Some of those people have succumbed to the madness of protecting a petty fiefdom and exerting petty authority at all costs. But many have not lost sight of our common humanity and are graceful in reaching out to others. George could not have gotten the transfer accomplished and started work so soon without some people in supervisory positions at the Post Office seeing a family who has suffered and reaching out to try to help cut through the usual red tape. God bless them.
The family’s other children start school tomorrow. So by the end of this week, they will be well on their way to having entered into a new routine. It is amazing when you contemplate uprooting your whole family from a life and re-establishing an entirely new one in a town almost 2,000 miles away – then getting it complete in less than a month and a half. A routine gives our lives stability, allowing us to work with confidence.
Things have gone well with young Joseph, too. His progress has been slow but steady – and sometimes striking. As I had reported to you earlier, he has been reacting to stimuli around him since shortly after arriving at the new hospital and steadily exhibiting more independent, but unconscious, muscle movement. One day when I was talking on the phone with George, young Joseph started kicking his leg and twitching his arm. George and I both joked that he was probably just saying hi to me. Late last week, a couple of new little milestones were reached. When a patient in a
coma is moved to a sitting position, it can be dangerous because his blood pressure has a tendency to spike. They sat Joseph up for an hour and all his vitals remained steady. Sounds small, but a big step. Meantime, he has started fluttering his eyelids fairly regularly in response to things around him.
Late last week the Cronin’s got word of a new stressor. They were informed that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) had gotten a complaint last Tuesday from a credible source in Texas, accusing them of medical neglect of Joseph. During the brief, but furiously intense three-day battle for Joey’s life at the end of January, on several occasions, Driscoll Hospital in Texas tried some very-heavy-handed intimidation tactics. Fortunately, George and Susan are steady and I have been through some high-pressure situations before – and so together we navigated some very treacherous waters. On the decisive Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, when George was going to get the temporary restraining order, the hospital had been shaken by the volume of calls that had come in the previous few days and the press inquiries that began that Friday. Bishop Emeritus Rene Gracida had sent a priest to keep him informed and to comfort and counsel the family from Wednesday, Jan. 28, on. The hospital entered into a seemingly cooperative negotiating stance on Friday, offering to help facilitate a transfer. But it took a hardline stance, saying it would aggressively act to remove life support if George went ahead with getting the temporary restraining order. It represented that it had the support of Bishop Gracida in urging the family to back off the restraining order. I didn’t believe it. I took the family’s word for it, but sent an urgent note to the Bishop, asking for a quick response. Below is a large excerpt from that note (in the note, TRO stands for temporary restraining order):
“Obviously, I trust you. But I don’t understand. A TRO would prevent the hospital from removing life support, whatever they want. Why do they need to maintain the option of removing that life support or threatening to be very aggressive?
I am putting my political consultant’s hat on here…and I have been councilor to numerous U.S. Senators, Congressmen and candidates – and have navigated through some very high pressure situations for them before.
Let me tell you my concern: The Cronin’s want to keep Joey alive until transfer can be fully arranged. They need to buy time. But the hospital needs to buy time, too. If they can do a little dance until about five o’clock this evening and keep a TRO from being put in place, then they have the weekend. On the weekend, the institutions that can help and the media heavy hitters are off. The public pressure on the hospital is dramatically reduced. If they are determined to proceed with life-ending procedures, they could remove support over the weekend and present the A-Team of institutions and media with a fait accompli come Monday morning…too late to do anything about it. The only thing that would prevent that is a TRO.
Throughout this brief, but intense, saga, it has struck me that the hospital has acted disingenuously – presenting a benign public face while intently trying to justify pulling life support as quickly as possible.
So I ask myself, if I am the hospital and I actually am sincere about my negotiations NOT to pull life support before transfer can be arranged, why would I be incensed at a court order preventing me from removing life support – which I say I don’t intend, anyway. I have faced many opponents and institutions which, when about to lose the upper hand in a situation, try to intimidate with scare and strong-arm tactics. I have always faced them down – and nearly always prevailed.
If the hospital really does not intend to pull life support, a TRO is irrelevant to them, simply enforcing the restraint they say they intend anyway. If they are planning to play for time until this evening then pull the plug this weekend, then the TRO would be provocative – but could also save Joey’s life.
Now perhaps there is something of note I am not aware of from a long distance. I have not gone through this with the parents. I will follow your lead before speaking with them on it.
But if this were one of my political clients, my advice would firmly be to get the TRO – and the hospital’s frantic objections would not make me less likely to get it done, but more so, for I can think of no reasonable cause they would have to object to it if they actually do not intend to pull the plug this weekend.”
Bishop Gracida responded quickly that he was not part of any such recommendation and that he fully concurred with my recommendation. That was conveyed to the parents, who then went ahead and got the restraining order, through the legal help of the Texas Center for the Defense of Life, which had been arranged through the Washington-based Alliance Defending Freedom.
The hospital responded by filing a complaint of medical neglect with Child Protective Services of Texas (CPS). Unpleasant as it was, I could envision several rational reasons for them to do this. In the case of significant litigation arising from this episode, it laid the groundwork for a defense from the hospital. Even if they did not prevail, they could cite their concerns as a “good faith” reason why they acted as they did. (I use “good faith” in the legal, not the moral, sense here). A simple CYA. At the optimum, they might find something untoward and seize custody of Joseph and once again have full control over life and death decisions for him. I was not terribly concerned about that. The Cronin family was already under a microscope and, even in the midst of this pitched battle, one of them was with their other children when those children were not in school. Also, I knew that several hospitals had agreed to take Joseph and care for him – that the only thing keeping it from happening immediately was the necessary surmounting of some bureaucratic and insurance-related hurdles – and those were in hand and manageable. The whole thing seemed to become moot when, late that afternoon, Joseph started reacting in ways that demonstrated irrefutably that he was NOT brain dead. To their credit, despite the ugliness of the internal battle, the hospital immediately changed gears and began to give him genuine care for life. It did not escape the professional strategist in me that, once the TRO was entered and Joseph showed unmistakable signs of life, it was very much in the hospital’s interest to keep him alive. Had Joseph died in their care after all that had happened and the legal stance they had taken, particularly after they were proved utterly wrong late Friday afternoon, it would have been a public relations nightmare of Biblical proportions for them. It was very much in their interest to care for him well and get him out of there. Call me a cynic, but in politics I never trusted to the morality of an opponent to get them to do the right thing: I always counseled clients that once you make it in an opponent’s interest to do the right thing – and very painful for them to do otherwise – you can sleep easy regardless of the morality of that opponent. We had made it in the hospital’s interest to give Joseph the best of care until they could get him out of there – so I slept well.
The complaint that came into the DYFS office in New Jersey last Tuesday is nearly identical to the complaint the hospital filed in Texas. If it is not from the hospital directly, it would almost have to be from someone closely affiliated with it. There is no rational basis for this – just pure spite. New Jersey is legally obligated to investigate it and submit a finding within 60 days. During that time, it adds to the stress load of the Cronin’s and puts them in fear that their other children could be taken from them. It is pure spite. The petty bureaucratic mindset cares for nothing and no one so much as being right and maintaining control. In this case, hospital officials lost on both counts. They were wrong and lost control. To the petty bureaucrat, there is no rejoicing that a boy they thought dead is alive and progressing…only fury that they were wrong and the family did not obey their “betters.” So someone must be punished.
All the early indications are that this is a perfectly straightforward investigation by DYFS. George reported that the investigator the family visited with for nearly two hours on Friday seemed pleasant, professional and sympathetic. The good news is that after completing an initial investigation that is determined to be unfounded, if a source maliciously tries to make the same complaint, that can be prosecuted as a crime. Of course, whoever did this knows very well that no one is going to extradite anyone from Texas to New Jersey for prosecution on such a crime. So they obviously think it risk-free harassment. BUT…DYFS will be able to legally ignore any harassing tactics after completing this investigation and could report them to Texas authorities, which could make it a tad riskier than what the harasser is counting on.
I can’t know with certainty who filed this complaint. But I’ll tell you this: if a child in my care became suddenly critically ill in Corpus Christi, I would tell the ambulance driver to take him to the next town over.