Disability rights group responds to Nancy Fitzmaurice case

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News from the UK

A recent UK Court case, allowing a mother to end the life of her 12-year-old daughter has prompted a backlash from disability rights advocates.

“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 Autistic Self Advocacy Network said in a statement released October 28.

The case centers on Nancy Fitzmaurice, a blind girl born with hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia, which prevented her from walking, talking, eating or drinking independently, as reported by the Daily Mirror.

Her mother, in a 312-word statement, recently petitioned the High Court to allow London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital to withdraw her feeding tube. Her mother argued that the decision was necessary to end her daughter’s suffering.

“My daughter is no longer my daughter she is now merely just a shell,” she wrote, according to the Western Daily Press.

The judge, finding that Nancy no longer had any quality of life, immediately granted the request. Fourteen days later, Nancy died of dehydration.

The ASAN argues that the decision perpetuates “inaccurate and dangerous assumptions” about the quality of life of people with disabilities. As the ASAN sees it, parents should not have the authority to withdraw life sustaining treatment and that media coverage of the issue has excluded the voices of disability advocates.

“Euthanasia of people with disabilities is an extremely dangerous and wholly inappropriate solution to inadequate pain management,” the ASAN said in the statement. “In cases where painkillers are insufficient, a number of alternatives for pain management exist.”

In May 2014, ASAN joined 13 other disability rights groups in an amicus brief in an ongoing lawsuit regarding the University of Wisconsin Hospital Center’s end-of-life practices. Specifically, the parties challenged the Hospital Center’s practice of counseling patients about the option of withdrawing life-saving treatment in treatable, not life threatening, cases.

“We need the court to recognize that people with disabilities shouldn’t be refused care simply because a doctor doesn’t think their lives are worth living,” said Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the ASAN, in a news release. “Often, this sort of judgment serves as cover for discriminatory denials of care.”