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Ending life support for comatose baby: is it mercy or is it murder?

Chelsea J. Carter The Associated Press
Monday September 30, 2002

ORANGE – Little Christopher Ibarra’s mother wants her son disconnected from the machine keeping him alive so he can rest in peace. His father, who authorities say violently shook him into a coma, is holding out for a miracle recovery. 

At stake is more than 1-year-old Christopher’s existence. The boy’s father could be charged with murder if his son dies. 

Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Behn is to hear the parents’ requests on Monday. He has taken away the right of both to decide Christopher’s fate and appointed an attorney to represent the boy’s legal rights. 

“Both have something to gain. They both have something to lose,” Patricia Egan, a professor of psychology and social work at the University of California, Riverside, said of the parents. 

“The question is where is the best interest of the child.” 

Orange County district attorney spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder would not say whether a decision has been made to seek murder charges against Moises Vasquez Ibarra if the baby dies. 

There have been few cases similar to Christopher’s. 

One, in 1996, involved a New York man’s effort to keep a hospital from ending life support for the infant daughter he was accused of shaking. Although a judge granted the hospital’s request, the girl was instead moved to a Catholic hospital where she later died. The father was later convicted of manslaughter. 

“I think it will hold the attention of everybody what the judge decides in this case. ...It will set a precedent for that final decision: When to let go,” said Egan, a former social worker. 

Ibarra, 24, has pleaded innocent to one count of child abuse and one count of corporal injury to a child stemming from the Dec. 17, 2001, incident that left the boy in a coma. 

Few involved in Christopher’s plight will discuss the case. Most of the court records have been sealed or labeled confidential because of the boy’s age. Numerous telephone calls by The Associated Press to the attorney for Christopher’s mother have not been returned. One attorney for the father would not comment, the other did not return a call. 

The couple’s roommate told police he heard Ibarra arguing with Christopher’s mother, Tamara Sepulveda, followed by a loud thud coming from their bedroom. 

According to a police report, Ibarra then came out of the bedroom carrying a limp Christopher and asked the roommate to call 911. 

At first the couple told police the baby was crying, then began to have trouble breathing. Later, Sepulveda told police Ibarra shook Christopher and threw him into his crib. 

The father was arrested three days later, after doctors told investigators Christopher had suffered shaken baby syndrome. 

A Social Service Agency report, quoted by the Los Angeles Times, said the baby was “neurologically devastated,” unable to breathe on his own or respond to pain. The report quoted a doctor as saying, “The only thing he is doing is gasping, otherwise we would have pronounced him brain dead.” 

Sepulveda told the judge in May she wanted to end life support for Christopher and allow him “to go to heaven.” Ibarra objected, saying through an attorney the only reason he’s refusing to cut off like support is his love for his son. 

“I am holding out hope for a miracle, as is my client,” Assistant Public Defender David Dworakowski told the Times.