Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Failed by the world

I heard about this case last night, on All Things Considered. Haleigh Poutre is an eleven year old girl in Massachussetts who was beaten within a centimeter of her life, last September, with a baseball bat. Her stepfather is the prime suspect. She's now in a permanent vegetative state a la Terri Schiavo, and the state of MA wants to remove her feeding tube and let her die. Her adoptive mother (her biological aunt) was found dead with the child's grandmother two weeks following Haleigh's beating, in an apparent murder-suicide. Her biological mother had turned the child over to her sister five years ago when she moved to Virginia to be with her boyfriend.

My first and primary thought is this: regardless of how necessary it may to let this little girl die - if it were my child or loved one, I suspect I'd probably make the same decision - there is something ultimately morally repulsive to me about letting the state make that decision. That was what was one of the two things so repugnant about the Schiavo situation: that a governing body assumed the right to tell a family when or if she should die. (The other, of course, is that the family hated eachother so much that they couldn't or refused to cooperate and give that woman a diginified life or death.) I presume that little Haleigh is now the ward of the state, and so it is legally the state's decision. But am I the only one who is creeped out by that? An emotionally distant governing body gets to decide to pull her tube?

Apparently her stepfather tried to get a judge to rule that he was the default parent in her case and so he should have the right to make that decision. He wants Haleigh to continue in her artificial subsistence until her natural death. When she dies, by the way, he will be charged with murder. I'm sure his motives are entirely in her best interest. (Ugh.) So then I wonder where her biological mother is in all of this. According to the CNN article linked above, she's feeling frantic. I presume she waivered all legal parental rights to her daughter when she passed her off to her sister, but I wonder if there are any legal loopholes that could be pursued so that she could ultimately be the one who makes the decision for the little girl. So that at the very least, it is a family member or (supposed) loved one who gets to make the call.

But this brings me to my second thought: has this poor little girl ever known anything we'd call love? Has she ever really had a decent, protective, emotionally supportive relationship with a parent figure? Probably not. I don't know the reasons why Haleigh's biological mother decided to adopt her out to her sister. I don't know what forces were in play there. They may have been perfectly valid and necessary. And don't most of us think - even if we're deluded - that our family members can best care for our children in our stead? But I'd put money on it that Haleigh herself felt abandoned and rejected. How can a 6 year old process that? If her beating really was inflicted upon her by one or both of her legal parents, then it would be pretty safe to say it wasn't the first. Even if it was only her stepfather who'd abuse her, that little girl lived knowing that her mother did little to nothing to stop it (maybe she was abused, too), and that her biological mother wasn't there to do anything about it, either. What an abject lonliness this child has probably known. What's sadder is that there are probably plenty of little Haleighs who grow up and repeat this cycle in their own families and in their own communities.

How I wish someone, while this child was still alive, could have stepped in and extracted her from that situation. Someone who was not abusive and evil could have adopted her and shown her the love that every one of us deserves and only some of us get. But what I wish now is that someone who loves her and who wants the best for her could make the decision whether to let her die. It seems so vulgar that the state - an entity that cannot love, but only rule - should make that decision. She has been failed by all who should've been there for her.


Not with a bang but a whimper said...

That's a difficult issue. I mean, in the Schiavo situation it was the state determining who had the legal right to decide, as opposed to the state making the decision (a fine line, admittedly). I'm sure the judge (and jury, if present) would love not to be involved in this decision as well; I mean, who honestly wants to make life/death decisions? To have that sense of moral responsibility put on their shoulders?

"What's sadder is that there are probably plenty of little Haleighs who grow up and repeat this cycle in their own families and in their own communities."

This is the point I always end up at when thinking about topics like this. Abuse is a cycle, without question, and the abused usually end up in a situation where they remain victims, become an abuser, fascilitate abuse (or some combination therein). It's really difficult. In the same way that it's easy to feel sorry for this child, it's hard to fully hate those that did this to her, knowing that they likely also didn't get "the love that every one of us deserves".

Virginia Gal said...

I heard this story last night also.

What broke my heart also was that this little girl, in her short life, never had much love it seems. I personally think the State is doing the right thing, I firmly believe this girl will have a wonderful reception on the other end - this world has been too cruel too her, no point staying here.