A MOTHER has described the agonising decision that led her to make legal history by winning a court case to end the life of her severely disabled 12-year-old daughter.
Nancy Fitzmaurice was born blind and suffering from hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia, which left her unable to talk, walk, eat or drink.
Her quality of life was so poor she depended on round-the -clock care and was fed, watered and medicated through a tube at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.
But when a routine operation left her screaming in agony her devoted mother, Charlotte Fitzmaurice, a nurse who had given up work to look after her daughter, made the heartbreaking decision to end Nancy’s life.
In a landmark case Great Ormond Street fought on behalf of Ms Fitzmaurice, and father David Wise, to give Nancy the right to die.
In a 312-word statement given to a judge explaining why her daughter should no longer suffer Ms Fitzmaurice, 36, said her daughter longed for peace.
“My daughter is no longer my daughter she is now merely just a shell,” she wrote. “The light from her eyes is now gone and is replaced with fear and a longing to be at peace.”
After reading the words a judge immediately granted the request on 7 August this year and Nancy died two weeks later in hospital.
The ruling sets a precedent as it is the first time a child breathing on their own, not on life support and not suffering from a terminal illness, has been allowed to die.
Ms Fitzmaurice said: “Nancy was screaming and writhing in agony for 24 hours a day and it broke my heart to see her like that. Not being able to help her or ease her suffering was too much to bear. She wasn’t my angelic child anymore, she was just a shell. I wanted to have beautiful memories of Nancy, not soul-crushing ones.”
She added: “All I wanted was for my daughter to die with dignity with me by her side, holding her hand.”
Just two days before giving birth to Nancy, in July 2002, Ms Fitzmaurice from Ilford, Essex, was told her daughter was likely to be born severely ill as she carried Group B Streptococcus.
If caught early the condition is easily treatable in the womb with antibiotics, but Ms Fitzmaurice was told as it had gone untreated it would harm her unborn child.
Ms Fitzmaurice said: ‘‘We were constantly in and out of hospital because Nancy was such a unique case. She was never developed more than a six-month-old child.
“Simple things like birds singing and hearing other children play would put the most beautiful smile on Nancy’s face.’’
But a routine operation in May 2012 left her with an infection and specialists told her there was nothing more they could do. At night she would scream out in agony as she became immune to the strong pain relief cocktail of morphine and ketamine.
It was then that her parents met the ethics board of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and while they agreed to stop feeding her, they were not able to withdraw all fluids and said without food it could take months for her to die. The hospital agreed to take Nancy’s case to the High Court of Justice on her behalf, to argue she deserved the right to a quicker, more painless death.
Eventually on 7 August this year, Justice Eleanor King read Ms Fitzmaurice’s moving plea and declared it was in mother and daughter’s best interests to withdraw fluids.
She said: “In her own closed world she has had some quality of life. Sadly that is not the case now.’’