In August, a court in the United Kingdom granted Charlotte Fitzmaurice the right to have her 12-year-old daughter, Nancy, killed. The landmark decision was the first time that a child that was not on life support or suffering a terminal illness has been euthanized in the UK according to the Mirror.
Nancy was born with hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia. Also blind, she could not walk, talk, eat or drink and required constant hospital care. Nancy’s condition was painful and disabling, but not life-threatening. As Nancy’s health deteriorated and pain medications ceased to be effective, Charlotte Fitzmaurice appealed to a British court to allow Nancy to be euthanized.
In a letter to the court, quoted in the Mirror, Charlotte said, “My daughter is no longer my daughter; she is now merely just a shell.” She continued, “The light from her eyes is now gone and is replaced with fear and a longing to be at peace.”
Nancy was unable to communicate any desire to die, but Charlotte’s statement to the court said, “Today I am appealing to you for Nancy as I truly believe she has endured enough. For me to say that breaks my heart. But I have to say it.” Nancy’s father, David Wise, also supported the appeal to the court.
After a ruling in which Justice Eleanor King decided that it “is not the case now” that Nancy has any quality of life, doctors at London’s Great Ormond St. Hospital began to withhold food and water from Nancy. She died 14 days later. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under British law according to the National Health Service.
While Nancy’s life was filled with pain, so was her death. Charlotte told the Mirror, “Watching my daughter suffer for days while they cut off her fluids was unbearable. She went in pain. It will stay with me forever.”
Nancy’s father, David Wise, agreed. “It was heartbreaking to see my daughter like that,” he said. “It was the hardest decision we ever made.”
Advocates for life argue that such cases are a slippery slope and note that Nancy’s death was chosen by her parents and doctors, not by Nancy herself, and that Nancy was not terminally ill. “The judge’s statement sets a precedent that quality of life now becomes a measuring rod as to whether or not a child with a disability should live or die. That’s horrific. That’s terrifying,” Joni Eareckson Tada told The Christian Post. Eareckson Tada, a Christian activist for the disabled who is a quadriplegic, continued, “In the future, I wonder how many other subjective issues may sway another judge’s opinion in the life of somebody like Nancy, or perhaps even less disabled physically and mentally than Nancy. This swings open a door to similar actions against other people with disabilities simply based on the fact of distress, the inconvenience, the cost, the discomfort, all of which are subjective issues.”
The Autism Self Advocacy Network agreed. The group issued a statement, which 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.
There have been other cases of euthanasia in the UK. In 2009, in a case that pitted the mother against the father, a judge ruled that baby Ronnie Bickell’s “quality of life would not be good enough to justify the medical care needed to prolong it” according to the Daily Mail. In another case, Hannah Jones, then 13, refused a heart transplant that could have saved her life. Hannah’s heart had been damaged by treatment for leukemia that she had suffered as a child. A court upheld her right to refuse treatment, but, a year later, she changed her mind and had the surgery.
In Holland, euthanasia is legal. Officially, about three percent of Dutch deaths are attributed to euthanasia, a rate that would be equivalent to 75,000 people each year in the US according to National Review. Unofficially, the euthanasia rate in Holland may be as high as 10 percent acknowledges the Daily Caller. While euthanasia of children is technically illegal in Holland, Belgium removed all age restrictions from its euthanasia law earlier this year according to Time.
Last year, at 18, Hannah Jones told the Mirror that she was glad that she had undergone the operation rather than ending her life. “I’m so grateful for my transplant, and glad I decided to have it. It’s given me a life I didn’t expect, a chance to grow up, to follow ambitions, maybe even get married and have a family.” An actress and dancer at her college, “I never thought I’d be dancing on stage,” Hannah said, “ I love it.”
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