Difficult conversations are the uncomfortable conversations, and I think, the ones that we often shirk by the very nature of that discomfort. But they are usually the ones that we need to have.
I think this whole conversation of assisted suicide and killing children with disabilities is one that is extremely uncomfortable. And one that we need to have.
Brittany Maynard was an adult with terminal brain cancer. She made a conscious decision to die by taking doctor-prescribed medication that would ease her pain and help her on to the next world. Everything about Brittany’s choice was from her: she was the one who wrote about it, she was the one who asked for it, she was the one who took the medication that caused her death. Make no mistake; this was by and for Brittany.
It wasn’t about her family wanting her die or her mother saying she needed to be helped out because she was in pain.
Nancy Fitzmaurice, on the other hand, was 12 years old. The decision to kill her was made by her mother, with no input given from Nancy. Brittany Maynard took the medication that ended her life herself. “Maynard played an active part in her own death by taking prescribed lethal drugs, while Nancy’s caregivers passively withdrew nutrition and hydration, letting her die instead of actively killing her.” (- Daily Beast)
The argument for Nancy’s death is that of pain: that she was in great pain and her life was not worth living because she required care and a feeding tube. The argument echos popular sentiment; that if you have a disability that requires assistance, you should want to die; we should help you die because whether or not you tell us, we know that’s what you must really desire.
The “yes…but” cases echo this in that they are making way for murder to be acceptable. London McCabe was a 6-year old Autistic boy who was also recently killed by his mother. There is a push from the disabled community to prosecute his murder to the fullest extent of the law, as “frequently, the murders of people like London are made out to be due to the “stress” they allegedly put on their caregivers, and sympathy is extended to their murderers.” (- Autistic Self Advocacy Network) We have seen this in spades through murders and would-be murders (the Issy Stapleton case is a fine example): parents either kill or try to kill their children with disabilities and the response from mainstream media and culture is something along the lines of, ‘oh that’s so sad, but… ”
Excuse me, but what the fuck is going on?
I mean, what the fuck is up with our culture in which we can excuse murder?And let’s be real here: with the definition of “murder” being, “to kill (a person) in a deliberate and unlawful way” (- Merriam-Webster.com), this is most assuredly just that.
Why are we making all kinds of excuses for this?
Why are we allowing room in the conversation for a parent to murder a child?
It’s because of disability, isn’t it.
I mean, that’s the cinching point. If and when a parent either murders or attempts to murder their child without a disability, there is outrage. There is none of this “…but“, there is nothing permissable about it. It’s wrong, people are outraged and you don’t see status updates on Facebook saying things along the lines of, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”. No. People are sickened and horrified and that’s it.
But when it’s an Autistic child in the picture, when it’s a child with a disability that is fearsome and loathsome to others – as was Nancy Fitzmaurice’s disabilities (she was born with meningitis, septicemia, and hydrocephalus), then it’s somehow saving the child. It becomes “yes, murder is terrible… but you don’t understand” or, “yes it’s awful, but you can’t judge because you haven’t walked in the parents footsteps.”
I think you do know that disability can be challenging.
Disability can be challenging to live with, work with, advocate for and understand. But “challenging” does not give license to kill. “Challenging” means that it is difficult, you need to summon something extra that you have within yourself to understand and work with it – and if you don’t have that, then give your child up.
Drop your child off at the police station or a safe place, if your child is Autistic, contact the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, give your child to them. “Give a child to strangers?” people wonder, and yes, it’s horrible but it’s not as horrible as taking the life of your child. Give your child up and s/he still has their life, still has the time and wherewithal to heal and find the life they were meant to live.
Because this about the child.
It’s about the child’s right to live and their right to exist, with their disability.
Brittany Maynard was an adult and she had a terminal illness. She knew she was going to die and she wanted to take control of her death. Nancy Fitzmaurice and London McCabe were neither terminally ill nor desirous of death. Nor were they adults. They were simply children, who had a disability and who were killed by their mothers.
And I believe we need to talk about this and quit condoning or excusing murder because a disability is present.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.