Monday, October 27, 2014

Disparity in Health Care: Malpractice, Euthanasia, and 60 Minutes' "Breeding Out Disease" Episode

My son is convalescing. He was very ill, he was in pain, and I was in an agony of grief. So heartbroken that my heart reacted and that sudden shortness of breath, that nausea, and the sharp chest pain that doubled me over happened.  I fought to collect myself, quickly, medicate, and be there for my son. I could not end up in a hospital as well.

Image is of Mu at a much younger age asleep in another ER hospital bed
It is the worst part of being a parent. The helplessness. The horror of watching your child suffer. For parents of disabled children, a large part of our lives are spent in hospitals. Our children, throughout their lives, have medical challenges that require we buck up and stand by them. I would bear my son's pain for him if that were possible. But he has a will to live that is more powerful than almost anyone I've met in my life. He's a fighter. So when these health crises happen and he's in that ER room bed, smiling weakly at me I smile back and say quietly " let's kick some ass son". He and I fight the power. He doesn't need to say a word. I see his will to live in his eyes, and in his quiet focus on silently managing the pain. It does not become me to fall apart in the face of such courage. Since I was given the honor of calling myself the mother of such a son I must join my will to his and show him I am with him. I must help overcome every obstacle with him and stand firm. That is the job.

I know that in global disability news, the current hot button topic is Charlotte Fitzmaurice, the UK mom who, along with her husband and the hospital caring for her daughter, Nancy Fitzmaurice, successfully won a lawsuit to end Nancy's life by starving her to death. When one removes a feeding tube from an individual who is unable to receive nourishment any other way they are starved to death. I'm sorry how is that humane? So many care providing people have starved their disabled children and adult siblings to death. It is a painful, horrid way to die. Those who did where sent to prison for it. How is it that a hospital setting and court order make this okay? We are going to inflict further terrible pain on this child because we want to free her from pain. WTH?

Something else that really bothered me about the way this story played out was a very critical point that no one spoke out about. London's Great Ormond Street Hospital was responsible for Nancy's round the clock care. A botched a routine operation left 12 year old Nancy screaming in agony. Then Great Ormond Street used their resources in a legal battle in the parents' names to end Nancy's life by removing her life support systems and nutrition. No one is asking the right question. Why would a hospital do this? Who was responsible for the botched surgery that brought Nancy to this point? Why were they not held to account for it?

I pray our son is never a victim of medical malpractice going forward. I believe if such a catastrophe occurred and we were offered this option of hospital endorsed legally approved starvation as some optional remedy for any harm done him I would listen for the Twilight Zone music in the background. This idea of ending the suffering of someone who can't tell you what they want and doing it so horrifically is freaking me out. Especially now, with Mu fresh out of the hospital.

He is my almost 12 year old, my youngest, and he is still recovering from being very ill. These health episodes terrify me, because in those moments his life depends on the professionalism of the medical institutions responsible for his care. Those people may decide his life is not worth fighting to for. His life has to mean just as much as the life of someone his age who has verbal speech and and ordinary brain. It cannot mean less because he is disabled. He is not less. He is our son. I want every effort made to help him be as healthy as possible. His divergent neurology should not be factored into the quality of his medical care and when medical institutions become involved in deciding whether or not to continue life support and nutrition for disabled children my son's age the world takes on a nightmare quality that doesn't require Halloween costuming and creepy music.

The tragedy of Nancy Fitzmaurice's death was compounded by Sunday's 60 Minutes broadcast entitled "Breeding Out Disease", presenting the idea that wealthy people are now able to pay to have their DNA scrubbed clean of pesky undesired cancers and things and then have perfect, made to order, babies. It jacked that creepiness up to haunted house on steroids levels. So much like the Hitler youth program. Or Star Treks' Wrath of Khan "we are superior because we are genetically engineered to be so" tripe.  Just who defines what we "breed out". Oh and the patent for this was acquired by a doctor who will charge a crap ton of cash to do what is necessary to provide this service. There are so many ethics concerns here. So much can go wrong it would take a series of blog posts to explain.

Meanwhile, my boy is recovering from being ill. We went to the ER and they understood him. They didn't force the blood pressure sleeve on him, they asked him. When discussing how he was, they spoke directly to him, even when he did not respond. Then they spoke to us and when we were done they tried their best to explain to him what they needed to do. Each person said goodbye to him and shook his hand. The doctor remembered another ER visit long ago, when Mu was much younger and remarked to him that it was nice to see him giving his mother a hug to calm her down. They treated him like a human being whose life mattered. I don't know that we will hit the kind humane hospital staff lottery again. It is chance after all. Ableism does not ask permission to infest your life.

 Two points of human rights violations in the ghastly euthanasia issue are the questions around consent without outside pressure when the patient is disabled or cannot indicate consent, and the idea that most of what is labeled mercy killing of late is killing, with pain and horribly, then the perpetrator using the victim's disability as an excuse to say "it was an act of mercy" afterwards. Imagine a policeman shooting a Black teen and saying "It was a mercy killing." "I did it because I knew he would live in pain and poverty all his life, and I wanted to spare him." Now replace Black with disabled.

When we are all arguing about these topics, I hope we remember that the person whose life was decided without her say was Nancy Fitzmaurice. She was 12 years old. She was the victim of a routine surgery that was botched and resulted in her suffering greatly. This suffering was not a result of her disability. It was the result of medical malpractice. This hospital has taken a large step into fright night going to court for parents in order to justify depriving a patient of nourishment until she died of starvation.

Lastly, rich folk trying to pay some dude to "scrub" their DNA of cancer, disabilities and such? Yeah. I don't see that ending well. We are talking about the same professional community that botched a routine surgery and then decided the fix was starving the patient, a child, to death.

Happy Halloween my people. No need to walk the dead. Fear is here. Hug your loved ones a bit tighter this week.


  1. where does it say the surgery was botched? I really need to show people that...


    1. The series of events and the unusual step taken by the hospital to sue in the parents' names for the right to end Nancy's life make it clear that this is the case. The single sentence was written so as not to draw attention to or blame anyone for botching a routine operation.Res ipsa loquitur ("The thing itself speaks").

  2. "But when a routine operation left her screaming in agony ..."

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  4. Imagine there were zombies of all these euthanized people that slayed their euthanizers? Ultimate retaliation!