From a reader comes word of a Boston Globe feature from earlier this month that we missed: "A New Life for Haleigh: For Child at the Center of an End-of-Life Battle, Family Created a Loving World." "A good story about Christians who walk the walk" is how the tipster describes the piece. I couldn't agree more.
The nearly 3,000-word article by award-winning Globe staff writer Patricia Wen begins with a scene that, in a sense, gives the entire story in microcosm:
WESTFIELD — The minister winds up his welcome to some 400 people, and soon lyrics flash karaoke-like on a large screen. A spirited Christian pop song, “Blessed be Your Name,” fills the Westfield Evangelical Free Church.
In the back row, a young woman, sitting in a wheelchair next to her adoptive parents, lights up.
Though she can’t read all the words, she sways to the music and claps her hands, the nails painted pink with white polka dots. She loves cheerful tunes and a crowd, and on this Sunday, she has both.
Keith and Becky Arnett could have predicted that Haleigh, 20, would brighten at this part of the service.
She entered their lives as a 14-year-old foster child, then known as Haleigh Poutre, who had been at the center of a passionate end-of-life court battle. Her singular story of abuse, compounded by government lapses, drew national media attention. It remains one of the darkest chapters in the state’s child-protection system.
As her case receded from the headlines, the Arnetts, in the quiet of their home in Western Massachusetts, took her in, and slowly learned what abilities Haleigh had — and had not — lost.
One thing soon became clear: Her love of music remained as strong as ever, as was her yearning to be part of a family and a community.
In these 244 words, we have the basic elements of the story: Haleigh, whose life once hung in the balance, is alive today. Her adoptive parents are churchgoing evangelical Protestants who, in their faith-infused life, provide her with "a family and community" that bring her joy.
Wen describes how the Arnetts were asked by a state social worker to take in Poutre as a foster child in 2008. Initially they were asked only if they would take "a foster child with disabilities.
The couple didn’t hesitate. They had completed foster-care training two years before, already had cared for a handful of children, and refused to turn away anyone in need.
As devout Christians, they believed God’s work requires sacrifices, including from busy families like theirs raising three boys.
Now, granted, I've only been here at GetReligion for a couple of weeks. Even so, searching the archive, I think it's safe to say that the mainstream media rarely describes the meaning of being a "devout Christian" as beautifully as Wen does here, using the language of sacrifice and, by implication, great love.
Wen goes on to recount the court battle that pitted the state of Massachusetts, which wanted to pull the plug on the comatose Haleigh, against the girl's abusive stepfather, who stood to face murder charges if she died. Here too there is a Christian angle -- the lawyer who advocates for saving Haleigh has a "connection to the [Catholic] Church":
On Oct. 5, 2005, Juvenile Court Judge James Collins approved the removal of Haleigh’s life support “with great sadness.”
The stepfather appealed the ruling, ultimately engaging the services of a prominent Springfield attorney whose clients included the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Attorney Jack Egan said his connection to the church, which generally opposes the removal of feeding tubes and other ordinary life-sustaining measures, had nothing to do with his interest in the case. He said he was drawn in after being asked by Strickland’s court-appointed attorney to review Haleigh’s legal file. Egan said he was horrified at the state’s swift action, and agreed to take the case for no fee.
“Here was a child who wasn’t given a chance to live,” he said in a recent interview.
Although we are not told whether Egan is "devout," it would seem that here again is a Christian "walking the walk."
The Arnetts, after two years as foster parents, chose to adopt Haleigh. In describing the adoption ceremony, Wen subtly brings in the faith angle once more:
The black-robed judge who presided knew Haleigh’s case quite well: It was [James] Collins, the juvenile court judge who initially approved the removal of her life support.
The Arnetts welcomed him, saying Collins was one of many judges and officials in state government who heeded faulty medical opinions about Haleigh, and later proved themselves to be dedicated to her future recovery and care.
“People should be forgiven,” Keith said.
So -- being a "devout Christian" means love, sacrifice and forgiveness. I don't think St. Thomas Aquinas could have said it better. GetReligion kudos to Patricia Wen.
Image of Haleigh Poutre prior to her 2005 assault via Wikipedia.