Case of shaken baby's future goes to top Maine court

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 05, 2014 5:07 PM

By Dave Sherwood

PORTLAND Maine (Reuters) - Maine's Supreme Court this month will consider whether the state can issue a "do-not-resuscitate" order for a severely debilitated child living in foster care over the objections of her biological mother.

The now 1-year-old child suffered "devastating neurological injuries" in December after being violently shaken by her father, prosecutors said. Following that incident, the child's mother, Virginia Trask, 18, agreed to the do-not-resuscitate order, according to legal filings.

Doctors in Portland, Maine, told Trask her daughter likely would die within five to 10 minutes of a breathing tube being removed, but the baby revived and began breathing on her own, which led Trask to change her mind, according to a brief filed by her lawyers.

"I don't think they should give up and ... watch my child die," Trask said in court papers.

The state later assumed custody for the child, claiming neither parent could provide adequate care for their daughter. It kept the do-not-resuscitate order in place for the child, who continued to receive medical care.

At a hearing in March, doctors testified the baby continued to suffer and that she would "never be able to walk, talk, see or hear," leading a district court judge to overrule the mother's continuing objections to the DNR order.

Trask has appealed the decision to Maine's Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on Sept. 23.

The case has attracted the attention of national advocacy groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative legal group, who have filed briefs contending the state has violated the mother's constitutional rights.

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"The district court's decision threatens to deprive Maine parents and children of their fundamental rights to life, safety and parenting," lawyers for several church groups said.

The state noted that Trask has only visited her daughter a handful of times in the months leading up to the judge’s decision.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech)