Local News

Abused Child on Life Support

Posted October 2, 1996 12:00 a.m. EDT

— A Knightdale boy lies in a coma being kept alive by medical technology. His mother is in jail, charged with standing by while her boyfriend beat the child. If the child dies, murder charges will be added to current child abuse charges.

The big question is who has the right to decide if the life support can be stopped?

It is an ethical decision some people think should not be made from behind bars. But it is a decision that may very well have to be made by someone.

Nadine Hunter (pictured at far right), the boy's mother, is now charged with felony child abuse, as is her boyfriend, Tyrone Bennett (pictured at right). Social Services now has legal custody of the 2-year-old, but Wake County attorney Michael Ferrell says DSS would not make such a call as general policy. The decision to stop life support, he says, would have to be initiated by the hospital and followed through the court system.

Nancy King is a professor of social medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and is on the UNC Hospital's Ethics Committee. She says the problem is intricate.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney, Shelley Desvousges, who is prosecuting this case, says she's not sure who has the authority to discontinue life support, but added that her office would not get involved in that decision.

"Should the boy die, I will look at upgrading these charges to murder," said Desvousges.

Police say Hunter now wants the boy kept on life support.

King says the situation is a rare one, with the criminal charges so entwined with the decision.

The hospital's ethics committee is reviewing the case. Police say it is the mother's decision whether to keep the boy alive. The hospital could, however, seek a court injunction to order stopping the life support if doctors believe that would be best for the child.

Doctors say they currently do not know how long the child could live either with or without life support. His condition is critical.