Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Where are Tookie's supporters now?

I have a question for the hordes of bleeding-heart Hollywood stars who joined the "Save Tookie" brigade, bowed their heads in prayer with ex-Crip gangster Snoop Dogg and the Rev. Jesse Jackson and pleaded to save the life of convicted murderer Stanley "Tookie" Williams, and who lobbied so hard for the government to err on the side of life.

Where are you now?

In Boston, an innocent girl was sentenced to death by the state. Her name is Haleigh Poutre. Last fall, she was hospitalized after her stepfather allegedly burned her and beat her unconscious with a baseball bat. Haleigh was kept alive by a feeding tube and ventilator. Doctors said she was "virtually brain dead." They said she was in a "persistent vegetative state." The medical professionals pronounced her "hopeless."

Less than three weeks after Haleigh's hospitalization, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services was raring to remove Haleigh's feeding and breathing tubes. Even her biological mother (deemed unfit to care for Haleigh and whose former boyfriend was accused of sexually abusing the child) wanted her put to death. The only person who wanted Haleigh alive was her stepfather, who will likely be charged with murder if Haleigh dies.

Insane decision

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of killing Haleigh, saying it was "unthinkable" to give the power to make a life-and-death decision to the man accused of putting Haleigh in a coma. Instead, the court did something just as unthinkable: It handed that power to the same child welfare agency that had failed time and time again to protect Haleigh.

According to the Boston Herald, a report by her court-appointed guardian showed that the Massachusetts Department of Social Services had received 17 reports of abuse or neglect involving Haleigh in the three years before her adoptive mother and stepfather were charged with pummeling her into a coma.

"State can let beaten girl die," the headlines trumpeted. But there was just one small complication for all of those who, for whatever reason, were in such a rush to let Haleigh die:

Haleigh is fighting to live.

As state officials prepared to remove Haleigh's life support, she began breathing on her own, responding to stimuli and showing signs of emerging from what doctors had deemed a hopeless condition. Everyone had given up on Haleigh -- except Haleigh.

Unbelievably, the state had weaned Haleigh off her breathing tube before the state Supreme Court ruled -- but the government failed to inform the court of this. Haleigh's medical records and the social service agency's brief remain sealed.

Politicians in Massachusetts are vowing full-scale investigations of the state's incompetent child welfare bureaucrats. But where's the accountability for the medical experts whose faulty diagnosis led to Haleigh's court-approved death sentence? Will they step forward and reveal themselves? Will they explain how they erred? Will they apologize?

It was the "experts'" unequivocal assessments that led the court to declare Haleigh in "an irreversible vegetative state" and to assert "the child could not see, hear, feel or respond." Now, they admit they were wrong. And Haleigh's life depends on the whims of a hopeless agency that didn't think the court needed to know she was breathing on her own.

Wake up

Haleigh's story is a wake-up call to "right-to-die" ideologues who recklessly put such unlimited trust in the medical profession and the nanny state. With such uncertainty surrounding persistent vegetative state diagnoses, the presumption must be in favor of life. Yet, the "right-to-die" lobby's mantra seems to be: When in doubt, pull it out.

While Haleigh clings to life, I've pondered how we might help persuade the plug-pullers to put off the child's state-sanctioned death sentence. I propose nominating her for a Nobel Prize. It bought Williams five extra years.

Jamie Foxx and Susan Sarandon, will you join me?

The writer is a syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. She is a 1988 graduate of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon. Contact her at
Published: January 29. 2006 3:00AM

Dear Ms. Young,

I'm writing in response to your column, “Haleigh Poutre is no Terri Schiavo”.

After reading all of the dishonesty that you purport as truths in regard to my sister Terri, I have to say that this is not only the most irresponsible article that I have yet to read from the media regarding Terri’s situation, but possibly the most egregious.

You wrote that, “Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, and had undergone a barrage of tests showing that she had no higher brain functioning and no consciousness – a fact on which all unbiased medical experts agreed.”

I want to know how you’ve researched Terri’s case, and how you’ve obtained this information. Could it be that you’ve gathered your ‘facts’ from the other opinion pieces similar to the one you’ve written about Terri?

If you are referring to autopsy that ostensibly proved that Terri was PVS, then you are entirely wrong.  The Independent Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy, Dr. Jon Thogmartin, went to great lengths to caution those reviewing Terri’s autopsy that a post-mortem, forensic examination could neither confirm nor refute a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state.  This is because PVS is a clinical diagnosis based on the behaviors of a living patient and not forensic pathology.

Moreover, Dr. Stephen Nelson – a consulting pathologist who assisted Dr. Thogmartin with the autopsy report – admitted that, while Terri’s symptoms were consistent with PVS, he could not rule out the possibility that Terri was in a minimally conscious state.

And there are numerous pathologists and physicians that have responded to the autopsy finding as being misleading and ambiguous.  This information could have been and still can be easily provided to you.

I wonder if you were you aware that – as indicated in Terri’s medical records – she was talking when given rehabilitation in the months following her injury?  This completely refutes the PVS diagnosis.

Additionally, did you know that there were more doctors on record with the court (from some of the most distinguished institutions from across the country) stating that Terri was not in PVS than there were doctors that said she was?  Furthermore, most of these affidavits (there are more than 42 in total) submitted by these doctors said that if Terri was given proper therapy, her functioning capacity could have improved.  Why was this never reported by the media?

Did you know that a recent British Medical Journal has reported that nearly 43% of all PVS diagnoses are, in fact, misdiagnoses?   Based on this report, the Independent Medical Examiner findings, the sworn testimony and affidavits of over 42 physicians, neurologists and other healthcare professionals contradicting that Terri was in PVS, I believe it is incredibly reckless for you to make the sweeping statement that Terri was PVS.

The fact that my sister received no therapy for more than thirteen years, which also was rarely if ever reported by the media, only added to the deterioration of her condition. No autopsy report could have ever determined how much Terri would have improved if she was receiving proper rehabilitation and therapy during the past thirteen years.

To make the statement that, “. . . all unbiased medical experts agreed” as to the condition of my sister is so completely disingenuous that the only conclusion I can draw is that you did absolutely no research into the doctors that evaluated Terri.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, hired by Michael Schiavo, has testified in almost every major case that the removal of the feeding tube should be permitted.  He even takes pleasure in the moniker, Dr. Humane Death.  To call him ‘unbiased’ is like calling Rush Limbaugh a liberal democrat.  And one of the other doctors that testified in my sister trial, Dr. Peter Bambakidis, was later discovered as having ties to same organization as Michael Schiavo’s attorney George Felos.

But aside from all this, what is really sad is that your article and so many others like yours does nothing but discriminate against the disabled by labeling them with this dangerous and subjective PVS diagnosis.  The PVS diagnosis was created for one reason and to serve only one purpose – to kill those that are the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

No amount of damage to the brain or level of disability should give anyone the authority to kill.  But this is exactly what you are saying - and is now happening all the time - that we can justify the killing of human beings because they have reached a level of profound brain damage that is unacceptable for us to care for them anymore.  So, tell me, how long do you give Haliegh to improve before you give up on her and decide that she must die?

What is really shameful though is that I have to respond to articles like yours and defend my sister’s life and explain why her family should have been permitted to love her.

Columnist Nat Hentoff commented on the media and how they have handled my sister’s case.  He said that it was so shoddy and inaccurate that it was the worst case of ‘journalistic malpractice’ that he’s seen in 25 years.

It continues.

Bobby Schindler