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    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Life Worth Living: I haven't paid much attention to the story of the little girl in Massachusetts who got a last minute reprieve from death by dehydration, but if this portrayal is true, her story should be a lesson to all state-appointed guardians of the most vulnerable. Take the time to check things out for yourself before submitting to expert opinion. For those of you who, like me, haven't been following the story, the child was in a coma after suffering a beating, allegedly at the hands of her adoptive parents. After eight days, her doctors declared her "virtually brain dead" and her state-appointed guardian moved to have her removed from all life support, including feeding. Then he had second thoughts:

    ''It's her incredible will to live," said Harry Spence, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, which has had custody of the 11-year-old girl since she was brought, badly beaten, to a hospital last September and lapsed into a coma.

    Spence, who has been criticized for seeking to remove her life support as soon as eight days after her hospitalization, said he visited Haleigh for the first time ''out of some sense of responsibility."

    He said he wanted to see the girl whose fate he will help determine. ''I needed to put myself in the place of a parent," he said.

    ...On Tuesday, Spence said, he went to Haleigh's room at Baystate and noticed a quiet brown-haired girl lying in bed. In front of her, he said, there were three objects: a yellow duck, a Curious George stuffed animal, and a yellow block. He said a DSS social worker accompanied him, and she said, ''Haleigh, this is Harry."

    ''Give him the yellow duck," the social worker said, according to Spence's recollection.

    Haleigh picked up the yellow duck, he said.

    ''Where's Curious George?" the social worker asked Haleigh.

    Haleigh then picked up the stuffed animal, Spence said.

    Thank goodness he wasn't too proud to have second thoughts - and to act on them. In the absence of brain death, eight days is an awfully short time to decide that someone is irreversibly damaged - especially a child:

    Children are more likely than adults to significantly recover from severe brain injuries, and some neurologists say they would want to wait at least a year before concluding that a child had stagnated in that state with no hope for a better life.

    ''I wouldn't give up before a year," said Dr. Douglas Katz, medical director of the traumatic brain injury program at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital.

    Katz said many patients in a minimally conscious state can track movements with their eyes and even pick up objects. But only when they begin to pick up objects and use them appropriately are they believed to have gained a higher level of consciousness.

    At best, however, these patients generally stay ''extremely disabled," Katz said.

    And that's the real question here, isn't it; whether or not "extremely disabled" have as much right to live as the lightly disabled or not at all disabled.

    posted by Sydney on 2/01/2006 09:06:00 PM 0 comments


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