Christian Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada Calls UK Court Decision to Euthanize Disabled Child 'Terrifying'

( [email protected] ) Nov 10, 2014 12:39 PM EST
Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian disability activist, has called a UK High Court's decision to allow the euthanization of a 12 year old girl "terrifying."
Nancy, 12, suffered from a debilitating disease that left her unable to walk, talk, or eat independently. Picture shows her at age 4. (SWNS)

Christian disability activist Joni Eareckson Tada has denounced a UK High Court's decision to allow a British woman to legally euthanize her 12 year old daughter, saying the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that may allow caregivers of other disabled people to do the same.

In August, Charlotte Fitzmaurice Wise legally authorized the euthanasia of her 12 year old daughter, Nancy, who from birth had suffered with a condition that left her unable to talk, walk, eat or drink on her own and required 24 hour hospital care. As Nancy's health deteriorated, she spent hours screaming in agony despite the large amounts of pain medicine she was given.

Fitzmaurice Wise made the decision after successfully petitioning the U.K. High Court to allow her to end her daughter's pain and misery.

"My daughter is no longer my daughter, she is now merely just a shell," Fizmaurice Wise explained, arguing that her daughter had no quality of life.

Fourteen days after the court gave its approval, Nancy died surrounded by her family after Charlotte ordered doctors at London's Great Ormand Street Hospital to withhold her nutritional fluids.

Disability activist Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived as a quadriplegic for over 47 years and is the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, called the court's decision "horrific" and warns it will "open the door" for other guardians to euthanize others based on their quality of life.

"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," Eareckson Tada said in an interview with the AP.

"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."

Eareckson Tada added that many people with disabilities are nonetheless able to live happy, fulfilled lives.

"I have many, many friends, whose functioning ability, is much like Nancy's: they can not talk, eat, walk, they are on ventilators. They are happy people," Eareckson Tada said. "Now we are going to look at somebody whose functioning ability is [limited] and say that their life is not worth living?"

The Washington, D.C.-based Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) also condemned the British judge's landmark decision, pointing out that that the policy of euthanasia "targets vulnerable people, particularly when it is applied to children."

"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," the group stated.

"People with disabilities who experience chronic pain should have same access as others to life-sustaining medical treatment," ASAN added.

In late October, Fitzmaurice Wise revealed that although she is glad Nancy is free from pain, her choice to euthanize her daughter still haunts her.

"I miss my beautiful girl every day and although I know it was the right thing to do, I will never forgive myself," she told the Mirror.

Eareckson Tada called Fitzgerald Maurice's guilt a "terrible burden" and said it likely stems from the fact that she did not have much support around her to lead from making that decision.

"What is heartbreaking about it is that the mother, in her statement, said that she will never be able to forgive herself. That's a terrible burden for a woman to carry," Eareckson Tada said. "It seems to me that the only people that were speaking into the mother's life were right-to-die advocates, and I am convinced that she had the proper resources, the proper support, the proper peer counseling, the proper networking with other parents, it would have been a different story."