PORTLAND, Maine — Virginia Trask, 18, is appealing to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to reconsider whether the state can authorize a “do-not-resuscitate” order on her severely brain-damaged infant daughter.
The child was 6 months old in December 2013 when her father allegedly violently shook her, causing neurological injuries that left her unable to swallow. The child’s father, Kevin Peaslee, 21 at the time of his arrest in Augusta, pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault. He was released on bail with conditions of no contact with the mother or child.
According to a brief filed by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the infant never will be able to see, hear, walk “or purposefully move any part of her body ever again.” She is fed by a gastric feeding tube because she is unable to suck or swallow.
She experiences “neurological irritability,” which makes the child “unable to tolerate environmental stimulation because there’s no processing of it.”
“She is uncomfortable for the great majority of her waking hours despite high doses of pain-reducing medication,” Mills wrote.
The child will never be able to function beyond “an early infantile level,” according to Mills.
Trask’s attorney, Scott Hess, wrote in a brief that doctors told the mother that her daughter was “neurologically devastated and that she would not improve.” The parents agreed to a do-not-resuscitate order, or DNR, and doctors gave the child to her mother so she could hold her as she died.
But after a ventilator was removed, the infant continued to breathe on her own, and the parents withdrew the order, according to court documents.
Still, doctors felt the do-not-resuscitate order was appropriate, and contend that the infant “is uncomfortable most of the time and may be in significant pain much of the time.”
In April, an Augusta District Court judge issued an order determining “it is in the best interest of the child to give the department the authority to issue a DNR and to make decisions regarding [the child’s ] medical treatment as necessary,” but the order was stayed pending appeal, Mills wrote in an email Friday.
According to Mills’ brief, Trask told authorities she would stay with Peaslee until he is released from any jail sentence. The child is currently in a therapeutic foster home, and Mills wrote that Trask has only visited the child a few times.
“Neither parent can be counted on to be physically or emotionally available to make the necessary informed decisions when needed for [the child],” the attorney general wrote.
But Hess argues that unless the court determines that Trask is unfit and her parental rights are terminated, the state cannot authorize the order over her objection.
The Christian Civic League of Maine, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and two other groups have filed an amicus brief arguing that the case “is about fundamental rights: the right to live, and the right to parent.”
“The district court’s apparent avoidance of the fundamental constitutional rights at stake and its failure to realize or admit to its ultimate effect have not only effectively terminated [Trask’s] parental rights but also seriously abridged her constitutional due process rights,” the brief states.
Hess did not immediately respond to questions submitted by email Friday.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Sept. 23.