Should a stepparent have any parental rights?

Where there is no living legal parent, should a stepfather be allowed to decide to continue extraordinary measures to maintain the life of a child reportedly in a persistent vegetative state? That is the question pending before the highest court in Massachusetts.

In a prime example of how the complex and messy factual details of a case may sometimes clash with the pristine logic of pure legal theory – or simple common sense, consider that the stepfather reportedly may be charged with the child’s murder if the social services agency having legal custody of the child is allowed to terminate her life support.

The entire sad article is below.

Mass. High Court Hears Life Support Case

by Adam Gorlick
Associated Press
Dec. 7, 2005

A man accused of beating his stepdaughter tried to convince a skeptical Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday that he should have a say in whether the 11-year-old is removed from life support.
Jason Strickland, who could face a murder charge if Haleigh Poutre dies, wants the state’s highest court to overturn a juvenile court judge’s decision that he has no parental rights over the girl, who is now in state custody.

“Without intervention from this court, this child will die,” said John Egan, one of Strickland’s lawyers.

Haleigh was hospitalized in September with severe brain injuries. Police say she had been beaten by Strickland and his wife, Holli, who was Haleigh’s adoptive mother.

Within two weeks of being charged with assault and battery, Holli Strickland, who was also Haleigh’s aunt, was found dead alongside her grandmother in a possible murder-suicide. Jason Strickland, a 31-year-old auto mechanic, is free on bail while awaiting trial on assault charges.

In September, a juvenile court judge granted a request from the state Department of Social Services to disconnect Haleigh’s ventilator and feeding tube. Strickland is trying to fight that ruling by arguing he should be designated as the girl’s de facto parent because he lived with her for four years.

But that argument didn’t fly with some of the justices. “That’s not going to do it,” Chief Justice Margaret Marshall said.

Both she and Justice John Greaney indicated they are unlikely to give Strickland what he wants.

“He has no standing,” Marshall said.

She said de facto parenthood is typically reserved for someone being prevented from having a relationship with a child by the child’s biological parent.

Greaney expressed concern about putting the girl in the custody of her alleged abuser.

Strickland’s lawyers say the state has pushed for removal of Haleigh’s life support, but no one has argued that the girl should live.

“There should always be someone who will argue for life,” Egan said.

Strickland has been denied access to the juvenile court proceedings because he is not a parent. His lawyers also argued Tuesday for those records to be unsealed.

Virginia Peel, a lawyer for DSS, which has legal custody of the girl, said Haleigh’s doctors have agreed she will not come out of her vegetative state.

“This is not about the right to life,” Peel said. “This is about the circumstance under which this person is allowed to die.”

Both of Haleigh’s doctors agree she should be removed from the ventilator, but they are split over whether her feeding tube should be disconnected.

They have said that with her feeding tube alone, Haleigh could live as long as two months. Without any life support assistance, she would die much sooner, the doctors said.

Egan said Strickland should be allowed to have another doctor examine the girl, but Peel said that isn’t necessary.

“When you have consistent medical opinions, why do you have to find a doctor who might – who might – challenge that,” she said.

Haleigh was adopted by her aunt about five years ago after her biological mother moved to Virginia with a new boyfriend. Jason Strickland never formally adopted the girl, but is arguing that as the stepfather, he should be considered a de facto parent and allowed to have a say in whether she lives or dies.

A baby sitter for Haleigh testified last week in Westfield District Court that she had watched Holli Strickland repeatedly kick Haleigh down a flight of stairs and beat her with a baseball bat. She also said Jason Strickland had hit Haleigh with an open hand and a plastic stick.

For educational purposes only and not intended to infringe on Copyright 2005 Associated Press