Nurse arrested after woman in vegetative state gives birth

Investigators arrest 36-year-old on charge of sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse

Nurse Nathan Sutherland, who is accused of sexually assaulting  a woman who gave birth while in a long-term vegetative state, police in  Maricopa County, Phoenix, said on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Nurse Nathan Sutherland, who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman who gave birth while in a long-term vegetative state, police in Maricopa County, Phoenix, said on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

A nurse who was looking after an incapacitated woman at a long-term healthcare facility in the US has been arrested on suspicion of raping her. It comes weeks after the woman stunned her caregivers and family, who did not know she was pregnant, by giving birth to a baby boy.

Investigators arrested Nathan Sutherland (36) a licensed practical nurse, on suspicion of one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams said.

“We owed this arrest to the victim. We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community – that innocent baby,” Ms Williams said.

The surprise birth late last month triggered reviews by state agencies and highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted authorities to test the DNA of all the men who worked at the Hacienda HealthCare facility.

Police spokesman Tommy Thompson said Sutherland was charged after his DNA was found to match the baby’s. Sutherland declined to speak to police and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, Mr Thompson said.

The 29-year-old victim has been in long-term care since the age of three and gave birth at the facility on December 29th. Employees said they had no idea she was pregnant. As her guardian, the woman’s mother was required to submit an annual report to the court that included results of a medical examination.

The case has prompted the departure or discipline of key figures at Hacienda HealthCare, including the chief executive. The provider on Sunday announced that one doctor who had cared for the woman resigned and another had been suspended.

Earlier stories had described the patient as being comatose or in a vegetative state. But her parents released a statement on Tuesday disputing those characterisations.

They described her instead as intellectually disabled because of seizures in early childhood. While she does not speak, she has some mobility in her limbs, head and neck. She also responds to sound and can make facial gestures. – AP