By Dave Andrusko
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments September 23 in the life-and-death issue of whether a lower court judge “correctly gave the state the authority to overrule the baby’s mother’s wishes and consent to a do-not-resuscitate order for the baby, who continued to live long after a breathing tube was removed and much longer than doctors had expected,” the Kennebec Journal has reported.
Four advocacy groups have joined together to file a friend of the court brief, according to staff writer Betty Adams, “arguing that the district court ‘erred by failing to engage in a meaningful federal constitutional analysis, instead trumping (Aleah’s) mother’s parental rights and (Aleah’s) own right to life in the name of what is perceived to be (Aleah’s) ‘best interest.’”
Fox News reports that that Maine Gov. Paul LePage agrees.
“This case is disturbing and is not reflective of my administration’s position that a parent who is the legal guardian of their child should have final say in medical decisions about life-sustaining treatment,” said LePage. “The existing law violates the sanctity of parental rights, and I cannot support it. Unless a parent is deemed unfit and parental rights are severed, the state should not override a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their own child.”
The case is tragic on any number of levels.
According to investigators, the baby’s mother, Virginia Trask, then 17, was at work at the time the injuries occurred. Aleah’s father, Kevin M. Peaslee, now 22, “is accused of shaking her in the family’s Capitol Street apartment and has been indicted on aggravated assault charges,” Adams reported.
(James T. Lawley, who is representing Peaslee on the criminal charges, told Adams his client has pleaded not guilty to two charges of aggravated assault and a third charge of assault. The case to expected to go to trial in October in Kennebec County Superior Court. Peaslee is free under bail conditions that ban him from contact with Aleah and her mother.)
“The family of 1-year-old Aleah Peaslee, who was left in a coma and with possible brain damage last December after allegedly being abused by her 21-year-old father, signed a DNR order after being told her brain damage was severe,” according to Fox News. “But when the tot unexpectedly regained consciousness not long after being placed in the arms of her mother, Virginia Trask, the family sought to rescind the order. State child welfare officials, who had taken temporary custody of the baby due to alleged abuse, refused, convincing an Augusta District Court judge that ‘neither parent can be counted on to be physically or emotionally available to make the necessary informed decision when needed.’”
Maine Attorney General Nora Sosnoff, representing the state Department of Health and Human Services, asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to leave the decisions by Judge Valerie Stanfill in place.
“Sosnoff’s brief says the child spent 11 days in a coma and physicians then planned to remove her breathing tube and recommended a do-not-resuscitate status,” Fox News reported.
But attorney David Crocker, who is serving as local counsel on behalf of the four groups, told Fox News
“Who gets to make these decisions?” The precise legal issue here is: Does the state get to make that kind of life-or-death decision when parental rights have not been formally terminated? That’s the $64,000 question.”
Reporting for Fox News, Joshua Rhett Miller wrote that “Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew left no doubt that LePage’s wishes will be followed in the case.”
“If the higher court upholds the previous decision that a parent’s rights can be overridden by the Department, this administration will not exercise that misplaced authority,” Mayhew said. “The Department of Health and Human Service remains firmly committed to due process in any case where the rights of a parent are in question.”