This is Haleigh Poutre:
Last fall, Haleigh was hospitalized after her stepfather allegedly burned her and beat her nearly to death with a baseball bat. Haleigh, in a coma, was kept alive by a feeding tube and ventilator. Doctors said she was “virtually brain dead” — in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
The Massachusetts Department of Social Services wanted to remove Haleigh’s feeding and breathing tubes.
Even her biological mother (who had been deemed unfit to care for Haleigh and whose former boyfriend was accused of sexually abusing the child) wanted her to be put to death (transcript via Nexis/CBS Evening News):
CBS reporter SHARYN ALFONSI: This is Haleigh Poutre before, before her teeth were broken, before her tiny body was burned and before she was beaten, doctors say, into a vegetative state. You’re her mother.
Ms. ALLISON AVRETT (Biological Mother): Yes.
ALFONSI: What do you want for her?
AVRETT: I want her to rest.
ALFONSI: And right now?
AVRETT: She’s not. Being kept like that is not a life.
The only person who wanted Haleigh alive was her stepfather, who will likely be charged with murder if Haleigh dies.
Two days ago, Massachusetts’ Supreme Court ruled against Haleigh’s stepfather, saying it was ”unthinkable” to give the power to make a life-and-death decision to the man accused of putting Haleigh in a coma. “Court: State can let beaten girl die,” the headlines trumpeted.
Just one small complication for all of those who, for whatever reason, were in such a rush to “let Haleigh die:”
Haleigh wants to live.
As state officials prepared to remove Haleigh’s life support, the supposedly impossible happened:
A day after the state’s highest court ruled that the Department of Social Services could withdraw life support from a brain-damaged girl, the agency said yesterday that Haleigh Poutre might be emerging from her vegetative state.
DSS also said it has no immediate plans to remove her feeding tube.
”There has been a change in her condition,” said a DSS spokeswoman, Denise Monteiro. ”The vegetative state may not be a total vegetative state.”
Monteiro said Haleigh is breathing on her own, without the ventilator she has depended on for four months. Monteiro also said that doctors at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield elicited responses from Haleigh during tests performed yesterday.
Everyone had given up on Haleigh–except Haleigh.
This is a huge story, a wake-up call to “right-to-die” ideologues who recklessly put such unlimited trust in the medical profession and Nanny State. The same government bureaucrats and doctors who had conclusively deemed the 11-year-old girl “hopeless” and her vegetative state “irreversible” now tell us she is responding to stimuli and breathing on her own.
They were wrong.
Next, look for The Professionals to tell us that despite her improvements, her “quality of life” will be worthless. We already know how they feel about people with feeding tubes.
Haleigh’s fight has just begun.
When the state condemns a convicted murderer to die, Hollywood celebrities trip all over themselves to protest.
Where are the Tinseltown activists who will rally to protect a truly innocent life?
Ace of Spades: “I do think it’s interesting that a court can spot a conflict-of-interest, but only when the purported guardian with the conflict-of-interest is in favor of keeping the patient alive.”
See-Dubya at Patterico’s: “Unlike the Schiavo case, not only has Haleigh not told anyone of her true wishes, but she legally can’t make these kind of decisions. There should be a presumption that people, that children, even brain-damaged orphans, ought to live.”
Karol at Alarming News frames the ghouls’ position succinctly: “Quick, let’s starve her to death!”
On the prospects of recovery:
Some patients with severe brain stem injuries may partially recover from a persistent vegetative state, but they rarely recover fully enough to communicate, feed themselves and live ordinary lives, Dr. Steve Williams, chief of rehabilitation medicine at Boston Medical Center, told the Globe. But he said recovery is more likely with children than adults.
“There’s more plasticity to their brain. There’s potentially other areas of the brain that can take over,” he said.
More background on the case via the Boston Globe:
After her biological mother, Allison Avrett, was deemed unfit to care for her and Avrett’s former boyfriend was accused of sexually abusing Haleigh, the girl went to live with Avrett’s sister, Holli Strickland.
From the time Haleigh was 6, she lived in Westfield with Holli and Jason Strickland, who married in 2001. Holli Strickland legally adopted the girl when she was 7. As she went through elementary school, the DSS received numerous complaints from sources it won’t name that Haleigh was being neglected or abused, but never concluded that the Stricklands’ home was unsafe.
Last Sept. 11, relatives took the unconscious girl to a local hospital. She was found to have bruises all over her body, at different stages of healing, as well as severe traumatic brain injuries and a body temperature of 85 degrees. Doctors determined that her injuries could not have been self- inflicted.
As DSS took custody of the girl and began hearings for a do-not-resuscitate order, Holli and Jason Strickland were arrested on Sept. 20 on child abuse charges.
Holli Strickland, 32, was released on bail two days later, and within hours, was found dead alongside her grandmother. Police continue to investigate the two deaths, but say they believe it might have been a murder-suicide, though they are unsure who shot whom.
In October, the state won a court order from a juvenile court judge to cut off life-support systems for Haleigh.
Jason Strickland, 31, filed an appeal with the Supreme Judicial Court seeking to reverse the juvenile court ruling and keep her attached to life-support systems.
He denied accusations by relatives that he wanted to prolong Haleigh’s life to avoid murder charges. He argued he was a “de facto” parent who helped financially support the family and helped care for Haleigh.
But the high court flatly rejected Strickland’s arguments, saying in yesterday’s opinion that there was little proof that he was significantly involved in her upbringing.
The court also said it took into account that the stepfather refused to testify about how Haleigh suffered the bruises and other injuries, asserting his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
“To recognize the petitioner as a de facto parent, in order that he may participate in a medical end-of-life decision for the child, is unthinkable in the circumstances of this case,” Greaney wrote.
Avrett Haleigh’s biological mother, who said she never wanted to give up custody of Haleigh said yesterday she is relieved by the ruling, though happy that more medical tests will be conducted.
When she visited Haleigh at the hospital last week, she said, she observed Haleigh’s hand moving, which gave her new hope that Haleigh’s condition might have changed.
But Avrett said she was later convinced by DSS officials and doctors that those movements were involuntary and not signs of revived brain function.
“I agree with the removal of life support, but it [the court ruling] doesn’t make it any easier,” she said. “I’m still burying my daughter.”
Not so fast.
Jan. 21, 2006: Blogging for Haleigh
Jan. 23, 2006: Failing to protect innocent life