One mother's decision to let her daughter die
Normally I write about autism but a debate on my Facebook wall, of all places, brought to the forefront how important this ruling--this decision is to the world. The question: Exactly how much suffering is enough suffering to end another’s life?
I am not talking ending your own life, I mean the life of another. To be more specific, to end your living, breathing, functioning child’s life because you determine their life too be filled with suffering, to be one that could not be lived with value.
The Back Story
Now, I have to be fair and say that “functioning” is used loosely there, the little girl reportedly functioned at a 6 month old level.
The little girl, Nancy Fitzmaurice, was 12 years old physically and depended on round the clock care; Nancy required a tube to be given her medication also to be fed and given water. She received care with these things as well as with being able to talk and walk from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Nancy was a beautiful child, a red head with porcelain skin. Looking at this little girl you can tell she was the light of every room she was in. She certainly had devoted parents. There is no way her parents weren’t devoted - devotion and special needs parenting are pretty much synonymous.
(Being a special needs mother I do understand parts of this families decision, but only part of it)
Nancy spent much of her life in the hospital being born blind and having hydrocephalus, meningitis, and septicaemia. After a routine surgery to remove kidney stones Nancy was left in terrible pain; screaming for 24 hours. Morphine nor ketamine were helping given Nancy’s tolerance to pain medication. Charlotte decided she couldn’t watch her daughter in pain anymore, she couldn’t allow her daughter to suffer. Her next step was to go to the hospital’s ethics board and talk about ending her daughter’s life.
After 12 years of caring for this human being--that could breathe freely, that could function on some level, that wasn’t in a coma--this mother decided her daughter’s suffering needed to come to an end, she decided the only choice was to end her child’s life. I would think that this would be another case like we saw with Kelli Stapleton (10-22 years for the attempted murder of her autistic daughter) or Karen McCarron (36 years for suffocating her special needs child) yet it isn’t. Nope, no criminal judgment to be handed down in this death, just a ruling allowing a mother and a hospital to allow a 12 year old child die.
In a court room rarity a mother and a hospital came together to ask a judge to allow them to take a life. During the hearing Nancy’s mother, Charlotte, gave a statement to Judge Eleanor King at the High Court of Justice. This statement pled for her allowance to end her daughters suffering, it told that her daughter “wanted peace.” This statement, this life altering document asking permission to take the child she had given birth to and end her life was 324 words. At this point this article is 500 words (without title). Looking at that--all I have to say is that it better have been one heck of a 324 word document.
Here is an excerpt from it:
“My daughter is no longer my daughter she is now merely just a shell, the light from her eyes is now gone and is replaced with fear and a longing to be peace,” Charlotte said.
This is world changing because this is the first time that a court ruling has been set forth that has allowed a child that was breathing on their own, not on life support, and not suffering from a terminal illness to die.
After Judge Eleanor King ruled that Charlotte Fitzmaurice could choose to end her daughter’s life London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital withdrew Nancy’s food and water. Essentially they decided she was in pain and got a ruling that allowed them to starve and dehydrate her. I imagine that the process was rather painful for her mother, though I imagine the years following will probably be harder on her. Guilt festers before it sets in full force.
On August 21, 2014 Nancy Fitzmaurice died, 14 days after the court ruling (that’s after almost 14 days of starvation and dehydration). Her mother said this of her daughter’s last day: “The last day was the hardest of my life. It was absolutely horrifying. I miss my beautiful girl every day and although I know it was the right thing to do, I will never forgive myself. It shouldn’t have to be a mother’s decision to end their child’s life, doctors should be able to take that away from you.”
So, a doctor should be able to decide that a child’s life isn’t worth continuing and kill them? It was painful for Charlotte? I’ve starved before, any mother that has given birth has starved in a hospital to some extent. It isn’t fun and even whenever they medicate you to ease the feelings of starving it still hurts and that is after only one day or so. I’ve never dehydrated on top of it - I cannot imagine what that little girl was thinking, was she scared? Did she understand?
As kidspot.com said, “Assisted death is a moral minefield. There is no black and white…”
Well, there should be! There should be very defined black and white lines all over this subject. While I understand where they are coming from I do not understand how they came to the decision. How can you ever justify killing your child when a doctor hasn’t looked at you and told you that your child is terminal - and then how? As a judge how do you read a mother’s 324 word document and decide it is within your power to give permission to end a life?
As an author have never written about anything like this, that was legal. As a parent I can relate to a point with wanting to end the suffering of my special needs child, yet I could never fathom deciding that killing my child was better than them living, no matter their condition. That is such a final decision and such an egotistical decision [whether intentionally or unintentionally so]. As a human I can’t think of much that’s more repugnant than this--on a moral level, on a religious level (if you are religious), and on a legal level.
What happens the next time a mother with an around-the-clock care child decides they are in never ending pain and wants to withhold food and water? What then? Will they be allowed to do so assuming they have prepared a well written 324 word note asking permission to do so?
My heart is with Nancy’s family, mostly with her mother because she is going to have to read about and watch the numerous interviews she has done since her daughter’s death for the rest of her life, not to mention, she is going to have to look in the mirror every day and see her daughter’s face looking back at her.
For your interest, here is the link to the Autistic Self Advocacy Networks statement on this death. It is worth reading.
Story originally reported by English Newspaper: The Express, Home of the Daily and Sunday Express