For once, some good news: Some of you may have been following the case of Lauren Richardson, who was in great danger of being dehydrated to death in Delaware after a court order awarding custody to her mother, who said she intended to have Lauren's feeding tube removed. Via Secondhand Smoke comes the news that Lauren's mother has had a change of heart and that she and Lauren's father (who are divorced) have agreed on a custody arrangement in which Lauren will live at her father's house and continue to receive food, water, and care.
Many have been struck by the similarities between this case and that of Terri Schiavo. I had noticed the very strong resemblance between the legal situations and had therefore feared that there was no hope for Lauren. The judge in Lauren's case concluded that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Lauren would have wanted her feeding and hydration stopped, and on that basis he awarded custody to Lauren's mother, precisely because that was her intention. I am pleasantly surprised and relieved to find that Lauren's mother has even been permitted by the courts to have a change of heart. It seems they might easily have decided instead, given the mother's new agreement with the father about Lauren's care, to give custody to an entirely different party who would carry out the dehydration.
In fact, that was precisely what the Court of Appeals in Florida implied would have happened in Terri's case if (per impossible) Michael Schiavo had changed his mind. The legal fiction was that the decision was being made by Terri herself and that hence no one else had a right to decide otherwise once the court had ostensibly determined her wishes. (See here, p. 10.)
Lauren's case is taking place in a different state. But it seems to me that the crucial difference in the legal situation is simply that the trial judge in Lauren's case made his decision as a matter of granting custody rather than issuing a direct court order (as ultimately Judge Greer did in Terri's case) that Lauren be dehydrated. True, Lauren's mother's initial intention to have her hydration removed was the rationale for the judge's decision, but what he actually ordered was only that the mother be granted custody. This left open at least the possibility that the supposed determination of Lauren's wishes could later be quietly dropped out of the equation if the parents could come to an agreement between themselves regarding her care. And thank God they did.
One more point: Legally, Mr. Richardson's appeal on Lauren's behalf looked hopeless. But it was the fact of the appeal itself that kept Lauren alive during the months during which her mother was thinking and rethinking. Mr. Richardson put up a web site on Lauren's behalf which asked, among other things, what we would tell Lauren's little daughter, Amber. Lauren's mother, Amber's grandmother, expressly cites this as one of the causes of her new decision. None of that would have been possible if it had not been for the legal delay. So the moral of the story is, as Mr. Smith says in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, that lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for. And sometimes, the good guys even win.