Wesley Smith has an update on Haleigh Poutre, who apparently – and hopefully – will be spared having to testify in the trial of her stepfather, Jason Strickland. Haleigh Poutre narrowly escaped the death planned for her by medical professionals at Baystate Medical Center and publicly-appointed guardians from Massachussets DSS. These professionals all signed off and went to court to seek removal of both ventilator and feeding tube from Haleigh Poutre just 8 days after her admission to the hospital. Poutre was in a coma, the result of injuries allegedly inflicted on her by her adoptive mother and stepfather, Jason Strickland. (NDY issued a press release calling for a larger investigation than actually happened)
Poutre’s adoptive mother committed suicide. Strickland, quite probably to avoid being charged with murder, fought the DHS in court, seeking to have Poutre’s life-support maintained.
In a case of incredible irony, the case took enough time to allow Haleigh to improve. In fact, news reports that she was awake and responsive emerged just one day after a judge approved the removal of Haleigh Poutre’s feeding tube.
If you’re looking for a hero in this story, you can stop now. There aren’t any.
And, under the radar, the legislative response is far from encouraging.
Back in March, for example, almost no coverage was given to the inaptly named “Haleigh’s Amendment” that was introduced – and passed into law:
During debate last week on legislation pertaining to the abuse and neglect of children, which is intended to strengthen the Commonwealth’s oversight of children under the charge of the State, an amendment written by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, was passed unanimously. The amendment protects victims from those who have been charged with their abuse or neglect.
Brown filed “Haleigh’s Amendment” in response to the tragedy of the Haleigh Poutre case in Westfield in 2005. Haleigh had been hospitalized as the result of alleged abuse at the hands of her adoptive mother and stepfather who had burned and beaten her into a coma with a baseball bat. While on life support, Haleigh’s stepfather attempted to obtain guardianship of her even though he was suspected of the abuse.
This amendment would prohibit an individual from being appointed a guardian or medical proxy if they have been charged with assault and battery, or neglect of the incapacitated child. In this case, the amendment would have removed any ambiguity as soon as the stepfather was charged.
Currently, the court may appoint a guardian for a person who is unable to make or communicate informed decisions due to physical incapacity or illness.
Please re-read the above with the circumstances of Haleigh Poutre’s near-brush with death in mind.
If this law had existed when she was admitted to the hospital, she’d be dead now.
That’s right. She’d be dead. Jason Strickland, motives aside, would have had no standing to challenge the DSS-appointed guardians in court. Haleigh Poutre’s death would have proceeded smoothly, efficiently and – most important of all – quietly.
It’s easy to see how this prevents the State from being embarrassed in a similar way in the future. It’s less easy to see – using Haleigh Poutre’s story as the rationale – how this is seen as furthering the “best interests” of children.
And, while the abuse of Haleigh was especially horrific, this bill strips all rights in medical decisionmaking from parents who haven’t actually been convicted of anything – and the bill strips those rights even from those charged with any level of neglect.
To be fair, though, the legislature finally got around to passing some other measures that seem to actually attempt to add some protections to children in situations like Haleigh Poutre’s, but it wasn’t on a fast track like the first bill.
Pope also refers to these pieces of legislation – relevant to situations such as Haleigh Poutre’s – as “end of life.” I guess he’s making assumptions about the outcome or just not bothering to reflect on the irony of using the term in this context.
I haven’t had a chance to read this pending legislation yet, but I’m not confident an ethics committee at Baystate would have gone against the medical recommendations to end her life. Similarly, if written second opinions are to really mean something, they should come from a qualified medical professional outside the original one.
In short, it looks like Massachusetts has made significant steps in making sure that a case like Haleigh Poutre’s never comes to light again. They have yet to make steps to make sure that medical railroading and abandonment don’t actually occur. It’s clear from where I sit which was more important to the legislature – avoiding future embarrassment or actually protecting children. And what I see doesn’t make them look very good. –Stephen Drake