The good news is that Haleigh Poutre, the 11-year-old Westfield girl who suffered severe brain damage after allegedly being beaten by her adoptive mother and stepfather, is recovering.
The terrifying news is that she was, at one point, very close to death after her medical providers hurriedly dubbed her condition irreversible and the judicial system rapidly authorized the Department of Social Services to take her off of life support.
It is sad that those who are charged with making sure that Haleigh was not in harms way, were not able to act to prevent the abuse from occurring. According to DSS officials, abuse was suspected but differing medical opinions on the causes of her injuries prevented them from acting earlier.
However, more troublesome is the fact that only eight days after the beating, DSS asked — and obtained judicial permission — to remove her from life support. Two physicians testified in the case, one favored the removal of life support and a second one opposed it. No further opinions were requested. Despite the conflicting views, the SJC ultimately ruled in favor of DSS, granting the agency permission to remove Haleigh’s ventilator and the feeding tube.
But when Haleigh was taken off the respirator, not only did she not die, but showed signs of improvement. By now, she is able to respond to external stimuli, such as looking in the direction of a noise or responding to simple questions.
Haleigh’s case serves as an example of the way a culture of death has pervaded our society.
No one is contending that those who made decisions in the case purposely intended to harm Haleigh.
Our society is increasingly dismissive of the value of human life. Doctors have performed millions of abortions without hesitation. Scientists routinely destroy embryos, the most defenseless form of human life. Already in our country doctors can legally help patients take their own lives.
What does all that have to do with Haleigh? Once society considers the lives of the unborn or the elderly dispensable, the next step is just a matter of time. Today it was a recently comatose child. Tomorrow, perhaps, it will be those without the financial means to pay for their care.
The demeaning of life has a ripple effect. If society valued human life in all forms, we can only assume situations like the rush to end Haleigh Poutre’s life would be much less likely to happen.