Haleigh’s New Life After State Wanted Her Dead

by Wesley J. Smith

It’s been awhile since I have written of Haleigh Poutre. Some may recall that she was an abused child beaten into a sustained unconsciousness by her step father. 

Adding near-killing to her injury, within days of being diagnosed, doctors decided she would never get better and the state sought court permission to make sure she died “with dignity” by having her respirator and feeding tube removed.

Happily, just before the deed was to be done, she awakened. From my 2006 NRO article, “Danger Zone:”

Within a week or so of the beating, her doctors had written her off. They apparently told Haleigh’s court-appointed guardian, Harry Spence, that she was “virtually brain dead.” Even though he had never visited her, Spence quickly went to court seeking permission to remove her respirator and feeding tube.

The court agreed, a decision affirmed recently by the supreme court of Massachusetts. And so, no doubt with the best of intentions, a little girl who had already suffered so much was stripped by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of even the chance to fight to stay alive. If she didn’t stop breathing when the respirator was removed, which doctors expected, she would slowly dehydrate to death.

Then came the unexpected: Before “pulling the plug” on Haleigh, Spence finally decided to visit her. He was stunned. Rather than finding a little girl with “not a chance” of recovery, as doctors had described Haleigh’s condition to him (as reported by the Boston Globe), Haleigh was conscious. She was able to give Spence a yellow block when asked to by a social worker and respond to other simple requests

Not only did Haleigh awaken, but she learned to eat on her own and began rehab and school.

Now, she has a real, loving family. From the Boston Globe story:

The minister winds up his welcome to some 400 people, and soon lyrics flash karaoke-like on a large screen. A spirited Christian pop song, “Blessed be Your Name,” fills the Westfield Evangelical Free Church. In the back row, a young woman, sitting in a wheelchair next to her adoptive parents, lights up.
Though she can’t read all the words, she sways to the music and claps her hands, the nails painted pink with white polka dots. She loves cheerful tunes and a crowd, and on this Sunday, she has both. Keith and Becky Arnett could have predicted that Haleigh, 20, would brighten at this part of the service. She entered their lives as a 14-year-old foster child, then known as Haleigh Poutre, who had been at the center of a passionate end-of-life court battle. Her singular story of abuse, compounded by government lapses, drew national media attention. It remains one of the darkest chapters in the state’s child-protection system.

The case caused MA to reform its laws. But have the bioethical values that led to this almost killing changed? From what I observe, no. Indeed, they have gotten even worse.

Think about this. Think about it hard: The “quality of life ethic” pushed vociferously in mainstream bioethics–and almost implemented by state bureaucrats–came very close to killing Haleigh by dehydration. It would have happened had it not taken the procedure months to get MA Supreme Court permission.

And now think about this: If euthanasia had been legal, she could have been lethally injected with not enough time to recover. And don’t think that will never happen if society swallows the hemlock. Child euthanasia and medicalized killing of children already happens in the Netherlands and Belgium. 

It is a very dangerous thing to create a invidious categories of people denigrated by medical technocrats as having lives not worth living–or paying for.

So, the next time a bioethicist argues that we must dehydrate a child or other cognitively disabled person to death in “their best interests,” remember Haleigh Poutre. Sometimes doctors are wrong. Sometimes “miracles” do, indeed, happen. If we are to err, it should be on giving life a chance.