By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The death by intentional dehydration of Nancy Fitzmaurice, a 12 year-old child with significant disabilities in the UK, is clearly a case of euthanasia by dehydration and not a case of withdrawing “medical treatment.” Nancy died 14 days after fluids were withdrawn.
I have a relative who lives with a very similar condition to Nancy, a condition that developed in a similar manner.
The British case became known when an article was published in the Daily Mirror on October 25, 2014. Doctors had agreed to withdraw Nancy’s nutrition, but not her fluids. Her parents took the case to Justice Eleanor King who, in August, approved the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition from Nancy.
This was the first time that a person who was breathing on her own and not on life support or suffering from a terminal illness, died by dehydration with the approval of the court.
This case sets a terrible and dangerous precedent and will have significant negative ramifications for people with disabilities. Nancy was dehydrated to death, not because she was dying or nearing death, but because she was living with disabilities and her life was deemed to be “Not Worth Living.”
The disabilities rights group, The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) condemned the British judge’s landmark decision, calling it an “extremely troubling legal precedent.”
In their press release, ASAN pointed out that the policy represented euthanasia and it:
“targets vulnerable people, particularly when it is applied to children.”
“Euthanasia of people with disabilities is an extremely dangerous and wholly inappropriate”
The ASAN press release also criticized the media coverage of the case. They stated:
“extraordinarily irresponsible, implying that the child’s disability should justify a decision that her life was unworthy of living.”
The group concluded that “People with disabilities deserve better.”
Dr. Andrew Fergusson, the chair of Care Not Killing Alliance stated:
“It is never ethical to speed up the process of dying by any intervention which has the primary intention to end life,”
“Weakening laws that protect the sick, disabled and elderly would put vulnerable people at risk.”
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is very concerned that this court decision was not appealed to a higher court.