The story of Katie Jones has been circulating slowly on disability listservs and blogs since the December 9 article in the Chicago Tribune. FRIDA provided an early link to the story, and since then Crip Chick, Shiva, Bint, Trinity, Brownfemipower have all addressed aspects of Katie’s story and the larger issues. Comments everywhere have been… illuminating.
I haven’t written about this before now because these sorts of articles from the mainstream media — this one involving children, parental control of a child’s well-being, disability prejudice, personhood and consciousness, health care in the U.S., living with the aid of machines, “special needs” schooling, and “right-to-die” versus the right to not be coerced to die — contain so much information that is either misleading, incomplete or biased that I can’t think where to begin.
Katie Jones is a second-grader in Lake County, Illinois, who has severe cerebral palsy and whose parents have sent her to school with a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) prominently attached to the back of her wheelchair. Taking that much at face value, the implications for Katie, her parents, her young classmates and school employees are complex and profound.
Add to that some mind-boggling facts about both the case and the media coverage of it: The Tribune article portrays cerebral palsy as a terminal disease, and while I’m not well-versed on the very wide range of abilities and medical issues people with CP possess, none of the many people I have known personally have ever been about to drop dead. So that portrayal is dangerously and cruelly incomplete. The Tribune article doesn’t discuss the fact that Katie apparently does communicate thoughts and feelings beyond those independently interpreted by people around her. You must dig to the caption of photo 4 at a sidebar link to even learn she is capable of expressing her feelings at will. And this, at the article’s end:
Before the bus arrived, Beth Jones weaved a French braid into the school girl’s long brown hair, while Allie [Katie's four-year-old sister] held up a feeding tube. A machine could do the job, but that makes group hugs difficult.
Besides, anything that beeps isn’t allowed in the Jones house.
“When we took her home from the hospital, where there were so many machines, we made the no beeping rule,” Beth Jones said.
The group hug part is completely untrue. I’ve had a feeding tube for two years now, and I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing about attaching a thin plastic tube to the end of it and running that tube to a machine that makes it hard to hug or be physically close to people. It’s actually less a problem for physical intimacy than an IV in the top of the hand would be, whether that IV is connected to a hanging bag or a machine. Feeding through the tube manually is a perfectly reasonable way to use the tube since basically this just entails using a giant syringe or holding the tube up and letting gravity allow nutrients to travel gently into the stomach, but attaching falsehood and phobia to machines that do this same task contributes to the pervasive ableist belief that people are better off dead than using medical technology for the long-term.
And the “no beeping rule”? There’s the real reason for the DNR right there. Better dead than using a machine that might make some noise.
I understand machines are scary. I get that because I’ve needed to make my own adjustments to them and also because I see it in peoples’ eyes every day. And I do understand people have different points at which they might choose not to live beyond, though I’ll add that there seems to be little reflection upon or respect given to the people who live quite happily beyond those points.
I’d like to hear much much more about the Jones’ “no beeping rule.” Is it because Katie is terrified of the beeping? Does the beeping represent an identifiable point beyond which Katie’s parents don’t feel they can handle her care? Or is the beeping too public? Too intrusive? Too medical? Why is an alarm that can signal a problem that should be addressed juxtaposed against the myth that without machines Katie will die “peacefully” from choking or suffocation? Why is this type of beeping so forbidden in our technological age where cellphones and dozens of other machines chirp at each of us all day long?
It’s not really the beeping, of course. And the answer to Trinity’s question:
Now why is [info that Katie shares thoughts via a communication device] tucked away in the photoshoot and not right there by the article, which is written in a way that suggests she is not aware what is happening?
seems to be that it didn’t seem relevant to the point of the article. Katie’s consciousness and feelings were not important in an article about whether or not she lives or dies and whether or not she gets to go to school in the meantime. What her thoughts about all this might possibly be is not once pondered in the article.
Further discussion can also be found at Wrong Planet, an online forum for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Cross-posted at The Gimp Parade