The case of a mother who petitioned a United Kingdom judge to allow her to kill her 12-year-old daughter by depriving her of hydration and nutrition is raising international concerns from disability advocates and others around the world.
Nancy Fitzmaurice, who was killed in August, was born blind with hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia. Nancy was twelve years old at the time and required 24-hour care. She was fed, hydrated and medicated by tube at London’s Great Ormand Street Hospital, and was given morphine and ketamine to alleviate her pain until her death.
Her mother, Charlotte Fitzmaurice Wise, petitioned a U.K. judge to deprive her daughter from hydration and nutrition, leading to a slow death.
“She has endured enough,” said Wise, “For me to say that breaks my heart.”
Although Nancy died in August, news of her case only became known after her parents came forward with the details recently, hoping that similar decisions could be made by parents and doctors without requiring legal intervention.
During the case, Justice Eleanor King, a high court judge in the United Kingdom, reportedly lauded Wise’s decision for her “love and devotion” towards Nancy, ruling that Nancy had no quality of life given her circumstances, and that she should be killed by depriving her of food and water until her death. Following the court order, Wise claimed that her intention was to end her daughter’s suffering and to grant her death with dignity.
However, disability advocates around the world were outraged by this incident. The Autism Self Advocacy Network recently released a statement that this decision sets a “troubling” and “concerning” legal precedent that will allow parents to end the lives of their disabled children.
“The decision constitutes an extremely troubling legal precedent, representing the first time the British legal system has allowed a child breathing on her own, not on life support and not diagnosed with any terminal illness, to be killed by the medical system,” the statement read in part.
“Euthanasia of people with disabilities is an extremely dangerous and wholly inappropriate solution to inadequate pain management. In cases where painkillers are insufficient, a number of alternatives for pain management exist. A policy of euthanasia targets vulnerable people, particularly when it is applied to children. People with disabilities who experience chronic pain should have same access as others to life-sustaining medical treatment,” it continued.
The Autism Self Advocacy Network continued by stating that during its advocacy work, they have witnessed blatant abuse when parents are freed to kill their disabled children:
“When parents and physicians have the ability to authorize the killing of disabled children, we see serious abuses. Recently, ASAN and twelve other disability rights groups filed an amicus brief in a case challenging the University of Wisconsin Hospital’s practice of counseling parents to withhold care from children with disabilities for treatable but life-threatening medical conditions. In one such instance, a child with developmental disabilities died after a hospital doctor advised his parents that they could withdraw his feeding tube – which provided fluids and nutrition – based on his supposedly low ‘quality of life.’ The medical condition supposedly justifying this measure was treatable pneumonia. The child died the next day, after administration of morphine. Such actions demonstrate the results of a policy that allows families and clinicians to discriminate on the basis of disability in the application of life-sustaining treatment.”
Life News also commented that the case has set an alarming precedent in the worldwide trend of euthanizing persons with disabilities, mental illnesses, terminal illnesses, the elderly but otherwise healthy, and children. Countries like Belgium and Netherlands are now followed by the United Kingdom.
The United States is not so far apart from this trend as terminal brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard killed herself just days ago on November 1st in Oregon. Maynard, who was originally from California and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year, moved to Oregon with her husband where physician assisted suicide is permitted under Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act”. She killed herself despite the pleas of many.