Child Support

The same extreme measures that saved Sidney Miller at birth also severely disabled her 11 years ago. Texas courts are still trying to determine who should pay for it -- and could set a legal precedent in the process.

That judge, Carolyn Marks Johnson, who has since left the bench, also barred HCA from using federal "Baby Doe" laws that prohibit withholding medical treatment from disabled children. Johnson pointed out that was irrelevant: Sidney Miller was not born disabled.

HCA hinged its defense during the trial on the meeting shortly before the birth. Summerfield and Jacobs testified that everyone, including Mark Miller, had come to a "consensus" that a neonatologist would be present at birth to evaluate the newborn and provide treatment as needed. But Summerfield admitted in testimony that Miller never changed his mind and approved resuscitation.

The Millers never brought Sidney to the courtroom; they wanted the case tried on the facts and not on emotion. Their sole legal burden was to demonstrate that they were caring, responsible people who were capable of objectively deciding what was best for their child. When Karla was asked at trial what she was thinking when she and Mark made their decision to withhold resuscitation, she replied:

"I wanted them to hand me my daughter and let someone that cared and loved her hold her. And I didn't want them to hurt or mistreat her, but I wanted her to feel loving hands. I just couldn't stand the thought of her suffering and being a part of whatever experiment they wanted to do on her."

About four months after the trial, Karla Miller received a call from a friend who had caught wind of a seminar being held that afternoon at One Fannin, a medical building owned by HCA. The topic, she was told, was "the Miller case," and one of the featured guests was John Serpe, HCA's trial lawyer.

Karla hoped to arrive unnoticed, but she was hailed from across the room by Mark Jacobs. The Millers had briefly considered suing the doctors involved, but in their view, the physicians were simply following the hospital's policy of resuscitating all newborns that weighed more than 500 grams, whether the parents consented or not. That was the real issue -- not medical malpractice.

However, HCA saw the case differently, despite the verdict. As Karla sat in horrified silence, Serpe explained in the seminar that the Millers had "opted for death" for Sidney because they did not want to care for a child with disabilities.

In the weeks leading up to the Texas Supreme Court session, HCA sought to perpetuate that image. The corporation's lawyers and spokesperson maintained that the Millers had filed a "wrongful life" claim. In March, Woman's Hospital spokesperson Linda Russell told the University of Texas Daily Texan newspaper that the Millers had consented to the treatment.

After the hearing, in a brief segment on the case on a legal-affairs program on MSNBC, Serpe repeated that claim. The show's host, Dan Abrams, didn't buy it.

"I don't think you're being totally honest here," he said.

The Millers have grown used to such tactics, to the extent that they can ignore the accusations that they would have preferred a dead child to the daughter they have today. They have reluctantly appeared on several national broadcasts about the case, and continue to be amazed by the misinformation.

"The only time it really gets to me is when I'm watching a tape of 60 Minutes," Mark Miller says, referring to a 1998 report. "That's when I can really see the pain on Karla's face. It just tears me up, and in many ways I think it has about ruined her life."

As it is, the Millers' home is typical of the loving and stable sort, which is to say the demands of Sidney's mental retardation, seizures, chronic respiratory ailments and occasional brain operations aren't any more disruptive to raising three kids than they need to be.

Bradley and Jake help out by meeting the bus that brings Sidney home from school every day. Bradley says his mother has begun to allow him to lift Sidney from her wheelchair and carry her upstairs. Both boys occasionally feed their sister, too.

Bradley is a tall, dark-haired boy who enjoys skateboarding and baseball. He says one of his favorite games is when everyone gathers around on the floor and lays their heads on Sidney's body.

"Mom will ask, 'Where's Bradley?' and Sidney will tap me on the head," he says. "Then, 'Where's Jake?' and Sidney will put her hand on Jake."

Sidney and Bradley attend the same school, and he visits with her at lunch every day. Bradley says friends occasionally ask questions about his sister, but for the most part, they consider her like any other kid. He and Jake have known that for a long time.

"She looks at things the same way we do," he says one afternoon while he and Jake play with balloons. "It's just like, we like these balloons, and when we show them to her, she likes them, too."

Two weeks before the supreme court hearing, a consortium of groups that advocate for the disabled filed an amicus brief asking the justices to uphold the 14th Court of Appeals' opinion in HCA's favor. While waiting to be admitted to the oral arguments in Waco, Colleen Horton, a children's policy specialist at UT-Austin, said the jury's verdict back in 1998 was a "slippery slope."

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