Careless Custody

New York news headlines for the last week have highlighted the tragic case of Thaiya Spruill-Smith, a 2-year-old little girl on life support waiting for the court to decide the outcome of a dispute between Thaiya’s mother and father about whether the child’s organs should be donated.

This emotional case is one of many that rivet the practice of family law in New York State. Thaiya was declared brain-dead and rests on life support due to an alleged assault at the hands of her stepfather, David Adams. Adams is currently charged with assault, yet that charge too is under review and me be upgraded to murder given his involvement in violently shaking Thaiya when she would not stop crying—ultimately leading to her life-altering brain injuries.

The battle that wages on in the courts today is focused exclusively on Thaiya’s organs. The child’s biological father, Terrell Smith, wishes his daughter to be buried with her organs. In his words, “She was born with them and I want her to be laid to rest with them.”

In opposition, Thaiya’s mother, Teoka Spruill, has requested that her daughter’s organs be donated.

The tragedy surrounding this situation makes the legal precedents more challenging to define as Thaiya’s biological father previously filed reports of potential abuse with the city which were investigated. Further, Thaiya was temporarily removed from her mother’s home, but according to Thaiya’s father, was returned one week later.

Currently, Thaiya’s body is being kept alive by machines until there is a resolution concerning her organs. Additionally, a decision will also allow the charges against David Adams to be upgraded to murder—yet that decision cannot be made until the medical examiner’s office can rule the child’s death as a homicide.

Legally, when it comes to organ donation of a minor, consensus from both parents is required. Given that Thaiya’s parents sit in direct opposition, the court must decide the final outcome.  What would you do if this was your case to decide?

Update: On 11/19/2014, 2-year-old Thaiya Spruill-Smith passed away at Brookdale Hospital shortly after 7 a.m.  The Court ruled in favor of the biological father and the child was removed from life support and no organs were donated.