Ethics Observations On The Vegetative Rape Victim

In Phoenix, Arizona,  a 29-year-old female patient who has been a vegetative state for more than a decade at Hacienda Healthcare center gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  The staff had no idea she was pregnant until she went into labor and gave birth on December 29th. She had an apparently been raped several times.

Family members for the woman  have declined to give a public statement, but their attorney told Huffington Post,”The family obviously is outraged, traumatized and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda Healthcare. … [They] would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for.”

Coming so soon after the post here about the ethics issues surrounding the death old a fetus, this news story prompted several readers to inquire here. Some observations:

  • Bill Timmons, the CEO of the health facility, has resigned or been fired. Good. Such a thing could not happen in a competently run facility.
  • Not surprisingly, the parent company of the facility was already under investigation. Negligence and lack of oversight on that scale could not be an anomaly.
  • Imagine the level of inattention it took for no one caring for the woman to realize she was pregnant for nine months. Many nurses, feeding, washing and care, and nobody noticed. This is more than patient abuse by the rapists.
  • My guess is that such inattention to vegetative patients is rampant in such facilities, even routine.
  • I won’t say rape is routine, but I doubt that it’s rare, either.
  • If the pregnancy was discovered at any point before the birth, is there any doubt that there would have been an immediate, undisclosed abortion?
  • Is there any doubt that this is why we have never seen this kind of episode before?
  • An unborn child of a vegetative mother, conceived by rape or not, has as much right to live as any other unborn child. The condition of the mother and the means of conception are irrelevant to that life.
  • Since the woman’s “right to choose” is not involved when a mother is vegetative (or dead), and should not be transferable, an abortion of such a child should be per se illegal. It is unquestionably unethical.
  • The institution should be responsible for the costs of caring for and raising the child its negligent management created.

16 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Vegetative Rape Victim

  1. Many online commentators have found it hard to believe that no medical staff noticed her condition the entire time she was pregnant. Was she no longer menstruating? Did her belly not protrude? Were there no scans done on her for nine months? When turning her to prevent blood clots, nothing spotted there?

    It takes a systemic level of neglect for something like that to go unrevealed.

    It’s my understanding that the police are now wanting DNA tests on all male staffers. I’d certainly start there, but the search may have to be expanded.

    When I walk into one of these facilities, there is a sign-in sheet, but, as the front desk is nearly never manned, it’s pretty easy to skip that part. I’ve wandered around them looking for my relative’s room with no one questioning me. The doors, for those that have doors, are nearly always open. I’m sure most of them do not have locks. A resident could be victimized by any random visitor, another resident or a relative easily. Certainly theft is rampant.

    I can see why some people avoid putting their loved ones in these facilities unless the situation is dire.

  2. A truly horrifying story of neglect and abuse. Let the guilty pay for it with all our and any other justice system heaps upon them.

    The new life born into an ostensibly caring family is an unexpectedly wonderful silver lining to this story. Good for them and for our society.

  3. Not to diminish in any way the horrific abuse by this facility but where is the family? My stepson was in a vegetative state for 6 months following an MVA and we continually evaluated what the staff was doing.

    Because this was a chronic care facility I often wondered where the other families were. This might beg the question at what point does a family member no longer have an ethical duty to oversee the care of such a chronically vegetative patient. My answer is never.

    • Great point, and I should have mentioned it. It occurred to me. Nonetheless, it isn’t their responsibility to care for the woman, but to make sure she is being cared for. What if she had bed sores? Wasn’t being cleaned or nourished? If the family could miss a pregnancy, were they paying any attention at all? I can understand how difficult it must be to keep visiting a young woman when there appears to be no hope and then time stretches on. At some point, did they just give up?

      • Overseeing care of a loved one is extraordinarily burdensome after many years. We were fortunate that our son regained consciousness but the TBI reguired long term care. Even though he lived in a group home so that he had some perception of independent living but we always were involved in his care. There are unfortunately many who live in group homes or institutions whose families believe they have outsourced their love to paid providers.

      • That is my take, the family probably rarely visited. Their child went from a normal teenager to a lump in a nursing home. After 10 years, she probably no longer looks like the daughter they remember. With no feedback and no hope, it may be incredibly painful to see her. I am quite against euthanasia, wary of the slippery slope possibilities that have indeed been happening in the Netherlands and Belgium, but these are cases where I would rather be put down than continue just existing.

  4. The home’s obvious lack of concern for their patients’ welfare (versus their own bottom line) raises questions about any medical advice their staff may have given the family.

  5. I currently work for state run group homes for individuals with dad/id diagnosis’s. We have a lot of oversight and continual exchange of people.

    With all of that said, a facility like this had to have dozens of people ignore the situation or possibly be involved in the rape. Think Kill Bill style. It makes my skin crawl to think about this. My gut wants to retch. My father instincts makes me want to go rectify the abuse Wild West style.

    As a caregiver and someone who has worked in healthcare close to ten years now, any time I read stories of care facilities or pharmacies or hospitals treating people like this makes me want to restart the whole damn system.

    • Your post touched my feeling on the topic. When a company is as morally (not to mention ethically) bankrupt as to allow this to happen, one tends to have little sympathy.

      I understand the impulse to ‘burn it all down;’ I share it at times. My better nature reminds me that there will be much greater suffering in that event, such that the ends would not justify the means. My two cents, there.

      I too was reminded of Kill Bill when I first heard of this story. Was ‘Art’ (Is what Quentin Tarantino does ‘art’?) predicting or instigating events? I fear that human nature already plumbed these depths, and the ‘art’ mimics reality.

  6. Too horrifying, but probably all too common (the rape part, anyway). A couple of questions. If her care was so terrible that no one even noticed her pregnancy, how in the world did she give birth to a healthy baby? Brain death does not mean total body system death, does it?

    And even if the family’s visits became (understandingly, I think) less and less frequent, how could they not notice this rather major change in their daughter’s body?

    If this is a real possibility for long term care for patients in a vegetative state, I would opt for pulling the plug — unless some psychopathic family wants a grandchild at any cost. This could become a real business! Ick. Ugh. Horror.

  7. If her care was so terrible that no one even noticed her pregnancy, how in the world did she give birth to a healthy baby?

    I am not a fan of horror stories but E2’s question was my first question. Then I retreated to examine its implications and I’m afraid to say they are way worse, ethically speaking, than any of the other accusations (of neglect or indifference) put forward so far. The only logical answer to everyone’s logical questions is a horrible one: Considering that, yes, a pregnancy can be easily hidden from casual visitors, and that a specially selected care staff for the patient could maintain the pregnancy as well as keep the secret from the majority of staff (a necessity, I would think), then it was a deliberate effort to bring a baby into the world for purposes I would rather not guess at.

    • Sorry, E2, I just read your comment over and realized you had come to the same conclusion, except that you had included the family in the collusion.

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