PORTLAND, Maine – A teenage mother is fighting a do-not-resuscitate order imposed over her objections on her brain-damaged daughter, saying she should be responsible for medical decisions. Child welfare officials who intervened after the baby was severely injured say life-saving measures in the event she stops breathing would only prolong her suffering.
The mother, Virginia Trask, originally agreed to the do-not-resuscitate order. At one point, the infant was removed from life support and placed in her arms to die, then opened her eyes and began breathing.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine and Christian Civic League of Maine are joining the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative legal group, in supporting the 18-year-old mother’s request to lift the judge-approved order.
“Everyone deserves a fighting chance to live,” said Steve Aden, from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief. “All she’s doing is fighting for her baby.”
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Maine’s supreme court will hear arguments later this month.
The case is unusual. Art Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said he’d never heard of a similar case in which a do-not-resuscitate order was imposed against a mother’s wishes.
“It could set some precedent for setting parental rights in some pretty horrible circumstances,” he said. “It could set some precedent with regards to medical authority.”
Aleah Peaslee was 6 months old in December when she was shaken by her father while the youngster’s mother was at work, prosecutors say. The girl, now in foster care, suffered profound injuries that have left her a spastic quadriplegic who cannot see or hear and who relies on a feeding tube for nutrition.
She will never advance beyond an “an early infantile level,” cannot suck or swallow and exhibits a high-pitched “neurological cry” that she suggests she’s in pain, the state said in a legal brief. Her brain injuries are so severe that she'll suffer a premature death, state attorneys said. Her foster mother observed, “She’s just miserable.”
The father, Kevin Peaslee, 22, is due to stand trial in October on charges of aggravated assault.
State child welfare officials believe the do-not-resuscitate order is appropriate, given the extent of the injuries to the girl, who stopped breathing and suffered from oxygen starvation after being violently shaken, according to court filings. If she stops breathing, life-saving procedures would only increase the severe pain she’s already experiencing, state officials contend.
Trask believes the do-not-resuscitate order amounts to a wrongful termination of her parental rights. She is fighting to make medical decisions for her daughter.
Scott Hess, Trask’s attorney, said the case involves “a very important legal issue for all parents.”
“My client is very brave for standing up for her rights and those of her child,” Hess said.
However, a state judge who gave child welfare officials authority to make medical decisions doesn’t put as much stock in the judgment of either parent and noted that the mother has visited her daughter “only a handful of times.” The judge found that “neither parent can be counted on to be physically or emotionally available to make the necessary informed decision when needed.”
The judge said also noted a potential conflict of interest regarding the father, who is no longer involved in the decision-making. Charges against him could be upgraded to manslaughter or even murder if Aleah dies, and the mother previously expressed an interest with reuniting with him, court documents indicated.