A rather ugly case is playing itself out in Westfield, Massachusetts right now. 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre is in a hospital following a horrific beating. She is on life support, and doctors say she will never recover (pending a miracle) — her brain stem has been sheared off. They use terms such as “brain dead” and “persistent vegetative state” to describe her condition, and she is sustained by a respirator and a d feeding tube.
Even before the attack on last September 11, Haleigh hadn’t lived a happy life. After her mother was ruled an unfit parent, she wsa given to her mother’s older sister for raising. She lived with the aunt and the aunt’s husband, who became her stepfather. Her grandmother also helped in her raising.
Last September, though, Haleigh was brought to the hospital in an “unresponsive state.” Police believed she had been beaten, and arrested her adoptive parents. Shortly thereafter, the aunt and grandmother were found dead in the aunt’s home in what police believe was a murder-suicide, but are uncertain who killed who. The stepfather, Jason Strickland, is accused of assault.
Doctors, state officials, and Haleigh’s birth mother and her surviving grandmother all support removing the life support, and allowing Haliegh to pass on with dignity.
Unfortunately, the one person who has the legal authority to allow such actions is her stepfather — who is facing charges for putting her in that state, and who could be charged with murder if she dies.
It’s an ugly case, with echoes of the Terri Schiavo case. But I don’t think there should be any changes in law over it. Right now it’s in the hands of a judge, who will decide whose wishes should be followed — and the fact that Strickland has a decided self-interest in sustaining Haleigh’s body for as long as possible should be a major factor.