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Illinois Federation

For Right to Life

Daily News

This is one of those stories that make you cringe to read. It's even harder to write, but necessary to update a story we first wrote about a couple of years ago.


Many of you may remember little Haleigh Poutre. In September 2005, Haleigh's adoptive mother and stepfather, Holli Strickland and Jason Strickland brought the bruised and unconscious Haleigh to the emergency room of Noble Hospital in Westfield, Massachusetts, "saying she had become unresponsive after suffering flulike symptoms," according to the Boston Globe. "Within two days, the Department of Social Services took custody of the couple's two other children, and a week later the couple was criminally charged in connection with Haleigh's traumatic brain injuries."

Monday, May 05, 2008

An Update on Haleigh Poutre

She Continues to Improve

Incredibly, only six days after the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) took custody of Haleigh, it asked Juvenile Court Judge James G. Collins for permission to remove her feeding tube and ventilator. According to the Boston Globe, on October 5, 2005, Collins gave the agency the go-ahead.


Fortunately, Haleigh (who, supposedly, was "in a vegetative state," and "had suffered a severe brain injury, and probably would never think or feel again") began to breath on her own and show 'increased responsiveness." This came on January 18, 2006, less than 24 hours after the Supreme Judicial Court had backed the lower court's death order.

"A week later, DSS Commissioner Harry Spence witnessed her picking up a duck and a Curious George doll on command and tracking some of his movements with her eyes," according to the Globe's Patricia Wen. On Jan. 26, DSS transferred Haleigh to the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton, where she has been receiving physical, speech, and occupational therapy.


The irony is that the only reason she had remained on life support was because of Jason Strickland's appeals, "which delayed the process long enough that Haleigh's condition began to improve," the Globe reported.


Earlier this week, Wen updated Haleigh's status. Her story begins, "Haleigh Poutre, a 14-year-old girl once diagnosed as being in an 'irreversible vegetative state,' has provided police with dramatic testimony about frequent use of corporal punishment during her childhood, but she has not given any specifics about what caused her to suffer a near-fatal head injury more than two years ago, according to two people with direct knowledge of her statements.


"Haleigh, who has spent the last two years at a pediatric rehabilitation hospital in Brighton, communicated with simple words and hand gestures in an interview last December. She also spelled out full sentences by pointing to letters of the alphabet on a board, reflecting the remarkable recovery of a girl who nearly was removed from life support by the state after doctors had declared her condition hopeless. She began to breathe on her own just as the state's highest court ruled that she should be allowed to die."


Parts of the aftermath are almost as sad and bizarre as the alleged beatings. Only the stepfather remains a defendant. In what police believe is a murder-suicide, Holli Strickland's grandmother shot Holli and then took her own life.


And according to the Globe, "The defense lawyer for Jason Strickland has already indicated in court papers that he may question Haleigh's mental competence because of her brain injuries."


There are any number of hugely important issues raised by the manner in which Haleigh's fate was almost sealed, but let me just list the two most obvious.


"Haleigh's highly publicized case shows how easily a child's death can be fast-tracked in a court system that may not be equipped to deal with such complex end-of-life cases, said some lawyers and specialists in juvenile law who have followed the case," Wen wrote in an earlier story.


"Too often, they say, lawyers and judges are not inclined to question the medical expertise of physicians or the judgments of DSS lawyers with whom they work frequently."

But that is one step removed from the initial troubling question. While the two doctors who testified in her case "agreed on many points," they "disagreed over whether all life support should be ended."


Worse yet, according to Wen, the Massachusetts Supreme Court misunderstood the recommendations of one of the two doctors. The justices believed he felt Haleigh could die even if she was kept on the feeding tube. In fact, while believing Haleigh had suffered "irreparable brain damage," Dr. Stephen Lieberman opposed removing the feeding tube and evidently believed, "with proper care," Haleigh "could live for many years in a nursing home."


Contact: Dave Andrusko

Source: National Right to Life

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The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection for the disabled and the elderly.   Click here to learn more about the IFRL.

Haleigh Poutre