Divorced parents contest life-sustaining feeding tube for brain-damaged adult daughter

Lauren Richardson
Lauren Richardson


In a case recalling the conflict over Terri Schiavo, two divorced parents in Delaware are fighting over whether to continue life-sustaining nutrition for their brain-damaged adult daughter, the News Journal reports.

Lauren Richardson, 23, has been in a so-called persistent vegetative state since overdosing on heroin in August 2006.  Pregnant at the time, she was kept alive at a hospital with feeding tubes and a breathing machine until she gave birth in February 2007 to a healthy baby girl.

Her parents Randy Richardson and Edith Towers are currently disputing whether her feeding tube should be removed.

Towers, who says her daughter did not wish to live in such a state and wants the feeding tube removed, was awarded guardianship of Lauren in January.

Her father Randy Richardson disagrees, "She's committed no crime and doesn't deserve to have this death imposed on her," he told the News Journal.  He is appealing the ruling awarding guardianship to Towers, his ex-wife.  The appeal will take three months.

Lauren lacked any living will or advance directive recording her wishes in writing.

In court, Towers testified that Lauren in 2005 had reacted badly to reports of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose parents fought her husband in a legal battle to continue nourishing her via a feeding tube.

According to Towers, Lauren said, "Don't ever leave me hooked up to life support. I would not want that. I think it is horrible. I think that I do not ever want to be kept on life support if the doctors say there's no hope."

Towers testified that she then promised her daughter she would not leave her on life support and had Lauren make the same promise about her.  According to the News Journal, an uncle testified that in a separate conversation Lauren told him living on life support would be “gross” and that she would not want to live like that with others caring for her.

Randy Richardson disputed the accounts, saying Lauren was living with him at the time and did not express such a wish.  He also said his former wife never mentioned Lauren’s statements about Schiavo and life support before she filed for guardianship.

Delaware Court of Chancery Master Sam Glasscock III made the initial decision awarding guardianship to Towers on January 24.  While acknowledging both parents’ love for her and fitness for guardianship, he called Towers’ testimony about her wishes “clear and convincing,” saying Richardson’s evidence “does not change this conclusion.”

Glasscock described Lauren’s condition in his decision, as reported in the News Journal:

 "All the medical evidence supplied by the physicians -- by the independent neurologist and by Lauren's own doctors -- is in agreement: Lauren is not in a coma but is in a persistent vegetative state. A large portion of her brain was destroyed by a lack of oxygen following a heroin overdose of August 2006. She is unable to communicate or experience consciousness. Her continued existence is dependent upon tube feeding and hydration. ... No improvement in her condition can be expected."

Randy Richardson disagreed, saying his daughter’s condition had improved.  She no longer needed a ventilator to breathe, and he said he had been told that Lauren can with proper therapy be taught to eat.  Richardson and the Delaware Pro-Life Coalition have released a video of Lauren at a nursing home where she appears to respond and react to family members and a dog.

"We just want to give her a chance," Richardson said, adding he is not talking about extreme measures.  "There is no life support except ... a feeding tube," he said, according to the News Journal. 

Richardson also thought Lauren should be kept alive for the sake of her child, expressing concern that Towers had not allowed Lauren and her child to see each other.

Richardson and Towers are also disputing guardianship of Lauren’s one-year-old daughter.  Their grandchild is presently in the custody of Towers.

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