The "last dance" teen is running into legal problems

You may recall our story from earlier this year about Jerika Bolen, the 14 year old girl from Wisconsin who suffers from incurable spinal muscular atrophy type 2. Having no prospects for a pain free, relatively “normal” life beyond divine intervention, Jerika has decided that she wants to end her own life. This summer her friends held a prom for her which they called Jerika’s Last Dance. With that accomplished, it sounded as if the teen was on her way to a hospice at some point to have the equipment which keeps her breathing turned off, but there are legal challenges coming which may shut this process down. (USA Today)

Disability rights groups are attempting to intervene in an Appleton teenager’s decision to cease medical treatment and die of the incurable disease that has racked her body and left her in constant pain.

Carrie Ann Lucas, executive director of the Colorado-based Disabled Parents Rights, said her organization is one of several that have asked for child-protection authorities to investigate the case of 14-year-old Jerika Bolen, whose decision to enter hospice care at the end of summer gained national attention.

“A child doesn’t have the capacity to make those types of decisions, and under the eyes of the law, this is a child,” Lucas said Tuesday.

Ms. Lucas might be seen to have some sort of standing here since she does represent a disabled persons’ rights group, but being that the case is playing out in Wisconsin I’m unsure how that would work out. If she’s simply approaching it from the perspective of trying to save a young girl’s life who might have some more good years left I can understand it. But from her more recent statements, it sounds like a lot of politics are driving this case as well. (Fox News)

Lucas said she also fears Jerika’s decision to end her life might have been formed from the negative way disabled people are portrayed on TV or in movies.

“We very often see our lives devalued… not being dignified and really that we’re in many ways better off dead than disabled,” she said.

If you just want to strike a blow for the way disabled persons are portrayed in the media it seems like there are better approaches to take than jumping into Jerika’s case. But some of her other complaints are certainly valid from a legal perspective. The fact is that Jerika is 14 years old which means she is a minor. We would not legally allow her to get a tattoo or have an aspirin dispensed to her in school without her mother’s permission. (Though in a number of states today an abortion would be A-OK, Guys! That’s an argument for another column, however.)

So she can’t legally make this decision for herself even if it’s permissible to do so under Wisconsin law. But her mother has offered her consent, saying she would rather see her daughter at peace than continuing to live in pain every day. Does that make the difference? I simply don’t know, and frankly I hate reading about this case because it’s simply such a painful story. I’m not opposed to assisted suicide for those with no other recourse, but we’re usually discussing the elderly or at least significantly older adults who have developed long scale terminal issues. It’s so much more painful talking about a teenager.

Still, I have to stick with the conclusion I reached in my original column on Jerika’s story. Life has dealt her a cruel hand beyond what I’m sure most of us would be able to endure. If she’s decided that it’s time to leave the table and bow out of the game, I don’t think it’s our place to stop her. God bless, young lady.


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