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Shades of Schiavo: euthanasia case of girl nagging at Mitt Romney

On the day Mitt Romney announced the support of social conservatives, the Republican blogosphere buzzed with reports about how a state agency under the former Massachusetts governor tried to pull the plug on a brain-damaged girl who ultimately came out of a coma.

The report about Haleigh Poutre surfaced on The Shark Tank blog in a sign that some conservatives – and especially social-conservatives – aren’t comfortable with the Republican frontrunner.

The case involving Haleigh has particular resonance in Florida, ground-zero in the highly-publicized euthanasia debate over Terri Schiavo in 2005 that captured the hearts of social conservatives.

In the Schiavo case, Gov. Jeb Bush fought, but failed, to keep her alive through legislation, the courts and even the consideration of a plan that, sources said, involved state police seizing her from a hospice home before she could be euthanized.

In Haleigh’s case, Romney’s Department of Social Services petitioned the courts to pull the then-11-year-old girl off life support. DSS was granted custody of Haleigh, who was comatose after a vicious beating allegedly at the hands of her legal guardians, her aunt and stepfather.

Shortly after gaining custody, the agency began drafting its motion for a do-not-resuscitate court order based on the advice of the girl’s two doctors. Both thought she should be removed from her ventilator, but they split over whether her feeding tube should be taken out as well.

The man accused of beating Haleigh, stepfather Jason Strickland, fought the state’s effort, but the state's highest court ruled that her care should be terminated. Two days later, though, Haleigh was still breathing on her own and is still recovering at a facility.

Romney said little about the case at the time, according to news reports.

“Gov. Mitt Romney,” The Boston Globe wrote in 2006, “wouldn't directly respond to a question about his stance on the right to die in general, saying in a statement: 'At the present time, my concern is with this young girl and her current status. In light of reported improvements in her medical condition, it should be clear to everyone that no action should be taken to end this girl's life.' "

In a written statement, Romney's campaign says he didn't just stand quietly by: "Gov. Romney criticized the state's handling of the case, ordered an investigation and put in place safeguards to prevent it from happening again. His actions speak for themselves. Gov. Romney was the one who ordered an immediate investigation of Haleigh's case. He appointed a panel to review the entire case history. Once the panel completed their investigation, Gov. Romney ordered implementation of all of their recommended changes for future cases. These include requiring the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) to obtain a second opinion from a physician outside the institution where the child is being treated before any decision can be made on withholding life sustaining treatment as well as a requirement that DSS obtain more detailed medical information from the doctors in the case." – Ryan Williams

Politico wrote about the case this September, noting it could "haunt Romney." Looks like it's starting to.