Maine Gov. Paul LePage reversed state bureaucrats and vowed to defy a state Supreme Court court ruling if necessary to back a teen mom seeking to lift a "Do Not Resuscitate" order from her one-year-old baby, who was allegedly shaken into a coma but miraculously recovered.
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. 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.”
Now, Trask's legal team, including attorney Scott Hess and advocacy groups who have submitted briefs in support of her. is preparing for an appeal before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, with oral arguments set for Sept. 23. And they may not be able to lose, after LePage told FoxNews.com he will not allow state child welfare officials to usurp a parent’s rights regardless of what either court says.
“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.”
Aleah is in foster care and her current condition is unknown. Aleah’s father, Kevin Peaslee, is free on bail but barred from contact with Aleah and her mother and no longer involved in the DNR decision, his lawyer told The Kennebec Journal. If the child does die, charges against Peaslee could be upgraded, officials said.
An ADF official said Trask's team was encouraged by LePage's stance, but is prepared to proceed with the case.
"My client is very brave for standing up for her rights and those of her child," Hess said.
Trask already had a team of heavy hitters helping her appeal the Maine District Court decision from earlier this year. Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and three other advocacy groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that state officials, who maintain temporary custody of the baby, do not have the constitutional right to interfere with Trask’s parental rights.
“This case is about fundamental rights: the right to live, and the right to parent,” the 25-page brief from ADF states.
Aleah was 6 months old when prosecutors say she was permanently blinded and suffered brain damage after being shaken by her father on Dec. 21 in an apartment in Augusta, Maine. Peaslee, of Windsor, later pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault after being indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury.
The girl, who suffered multifocal seizures during the incident, went into a “deep coma,” but attempts were made within days to remove her from a ventilator. Doctors then informed Aleah’s mother that she was “neurologically devastated” and would not recover, prompting the girl’s parents to agree to the DNR order, according to court documents.
Attorney David Crocker, who is serving as local counsel on behalf of the groups that filed the amicus brief, said the case centers around the question of who gets to make the ultimate decision regarding a child whose parent never lost their parental rights.
“Who gets to make these decisions?” Crocker told FoxNews.com. “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.”
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.”