bellyLast Friday in The Age Newspaper there was a candid interview with the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs[1]. In the interview Ms Triggs commented on many important human rights issues ranging from racism to asylum seekers. She pulled no punches. She also revealed that she gave birth to a profoundly disabled daughter, Victoria. Her daughter was born with Edwards Syndrome, which is a very rare chromosomal disorder. In Triggs words Victoria had been born, as severely retarded as anyone who is still alive can be.”

Shockingly when Victoria was born doctors advised Triggs that she should, Leave her in the corner and she’ll die.” If this is not shocking enough Triggs admits that when she looked at her daughter she thought to herself, “Well, you’re going to die, so I’m not going to invest too much in you.”

But Victoria did not die. Said Triggs of Victoria, “She had this inner rod of determination and simply refused to die.” After six months Triggs took Victoria home. The Uniting Church assisted her to find a family to care for Victoria. Putting Victoria into the care of another family caused conflicting emotions in Triggs.  Triggs explains it in this way, “ …because you have a child and you expect to look after her. But in the end I simply made the judgment that I would rather put my time into my other children and family, because I never believed she would live to that age.” Triggs daughter died at the age of 21 and she is very grateful to the family that cared for her.

Triggs candidness has shocked many in the disability sector. I am a pro-life person; I believe every person with a disability deserves to live. I believe it is no ones business to play judge and jury about the quality of someones life. Even so I can only imagine the horror that Trggs must have experienced when the doctors advised her to leave Victoria to die.

At the time one can imagine that this was Triggs first REAL experience of disability. She may have seen people with a disability on the street and she may have even known people with a disability but most likely Victoria was the first time that she had ever had to confront disability personally. But it was not just disability that she would have had to confront. She would have had to confront some of the severe abnormalities that Edwards Syndrome causes and some of these can only be described as horrific. In such circumstances all she could have done is to rely on the advice of experts, in this case the doctors. The advice they were giving her was to let Victoria die. It must have been traumatic to the extreme.

Victoria did not die. She lived against all odds for a further 21 years. In the time before Triggs took Victoria home from hospital it is quite obvious that she was preparing for her to die. People cope with these situations as best they can. Triggs seems to have tried to be detached and wanting to bond with her daughter as little as possible. It might sound inhumane but given the circumstances and the advice from doctors it is entirely understandable.

One can only guess the emotions that Triggs must have felt when she finally took Victoria home. Having tried to prepare herself for the death of her daughter, and having been advised that this was inevitable, she now found herself confronted with a lifetime of providing care to her profoundly disabled daughter. Not only was Victoria profoundly disabled she would have also had a myriad of other severe health problems.

It would naturally be daunting. She was clearly conflicted. She would have been thinking about her established legal career, would she have to give it up? She would have been thinking about her other children. What attention could she have given them if she was caring for Victoria around the clock? What of her husband and her relationship with him? Would it survive?

It is easy to get on ones high horse decry that Victoria is a living human being who should be treated with dignity. In any case I believe that she was. Sometimes we forget that the parents are living human beings too. Dealing with a situation where you are confronted with a lifetime of care for a child with a disability is daunting and traumatic. Each individual will respond differently. Some will throw themselves head first into the care of their child with a disability. Others, like Triggs, will make decisions based one all factors in their life, particularly the other family members who will be impacted.

Triggs chose to give up her child to the care of another family. She has also told her story in what some may describe as a politically incorrect way. She should not be judged for that. The decision would not have been easy. It’s so easy for us to be shocked by the detached and seemingly emotionless way Triggs tells the story. It’s so easy for us to be shocked by her use of words such as retarded. But all of this happened a long time ago.  Perhaps this business like and detached way that she tells the story is just her way of dealing with what would have been a very difficult time in her life.

Triggs is not alone in her experience. There are many, many other parents who have experienced what she has. There are many who will have made similar decisions to give up their child to the care of others. They do so with the best of intentions for the child and everyone in their lives. Triggs was perhaps a victim of the times and circumstances. Who knows if she would have been advised or reacted differently in todays enlightened age.

As shocking as her story and her method of telling it is, she deserves our empathy, not our judgment.


17 thoughts on “Opinion

  1. Very well written article Gary. I will not presume to judge her for her reaction or the way she handled it. What is not covered to my satisfaction is how she has rationalised those decisions and attitudes with her current role as the Head of the Human Rights Commission. Everyone is entitled to their points of view and perspective, however, not everyone’s attitudes or beliefs are consistent with job roles, especially when that role involves uploading the central premise of equality of the UN CRPD. Having said what she said, in the way she said it, I believe Commissioner Triggs needs to clarify her current beliefs and reassure Australia that she believes in the central premises of the UN CRPD. If she can’t do that then she shouldn’t be in the role. I stress my reaction is about her capacity to do the job, not her personal beliefs.

  2. The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission uses the “R” word to describe her own daughter and gave her to someone else to manage the messy dying stuff!

    • You are totally right on this one Vanessa. I mean parents should be fully supporting their children, disabled, dying or otherwise, not saying that they won’t support them at all.

    • The R word was what was used in the days when the child was born. One of my closest friends had a child who was born with Down syndrome at about the same time, and the doctors told her to “put her in a home and forget about her.” She had three older children to care for. Shocking? Yes. But that was the doctor’s advice, and that is what she did. Condemn her? Not me. I wasn’t in her position.

  3. There is an old Latin Proverb that says” The privacy of public office, the publicity of private life” The two are not separate. Why did the Professor show such bad judgement in going into the detail of her daughter being “retarded” when all the Professor needed to say was that she’d had a child with severe disabilities who died-it would have been disrespectful to pry further. The archaic language used and the attitudes expressed by Professor Triggs about her daughter are shocking and it brings into question her capacity to carry out the role to which she has been appointed.”Victoria was as severely retarded as anyone who is still alive can be,” Triggs says. These are NOT the words of Joanna Public, they are the words of Professor Gillian Triggs,the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. I agree with Bill Forrester but I would go further and say that the language used and the attitude displayed by Professor Triggs shows an entrenched prejudice and bias that makes her position as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission untenable. She should apologise and resign. The motto of this site is apt Never accept second best – it’s not good enough.

  4. I actually thought her hole approach to her daughter disgusting. How can she be a champion of human rights and say such things. All life is sacred. Talk about two faced!

  5. Lets apply this person’s logic to the current situation in Iraq. To all you Christians in Mosul, now that isis has taken over your city your going to die. Everyone dies eventually anyway so I’m not going to invest too much of my time in you. Oh, no, dam, sorry that’s my high paying job key performance indicator. Bugger. Guess I’ll have to show some compassion after all, that is of course IF you make it to a boat and IF your boat makes it to a rendezvous with an Australian warship….. If not I’ll just keep counting my dollars and show what a great person I am. Ohh I can feel another book coming on, where is my accountant……

  6. Faith, this has nothing to do with Iraq at all, and all to do with the foul way Gillian Triggs treated her daughter Victoria, as Gillian is head of the human rights and equal oppurtinity Commision, a Federal government body I believe should be rid of as we never need it and it would save us hardworking taxpayer’s over $20 million.

  7. Unless you have had the experience of giving birth to a profoundly disabled child you cannot know how you would react. Many women have given their perfectly healthy babies up for adoption because they can’t look after the baby or as in my generation , having a baby out of wedlock was not looked on with sympathy. Triggs was told the baby would die but she didn’t. The baby was given into the care of people who could and wanted to look after the child. The child presumably had the best care available and as Triggs said, she is very grateful them.
    She is probably a better commissioner for Human Rights because of her experience.
    No censure of the husband in all this- why is that?
    None of you can know how you would deal with the situation unless you had experienced it.

    • Jem, I have and I do. I nurtured my child into the beautiful and thoroughly worthwhile young profoundly intellectually disabled young man he is today. I am disgusted by how Trigg’s speaks about her disabled child. What a cop out?

    • Jem, I have and I do. I nurtured my profoundly disabled baby into the beautiful and thoroughly worthwhile young man he is today. I’m still disgusted by how Triggs spoke about her daughter. What a cop out?

      • You clearly have more strength and support than she did. I don’t see she has to justify herself. You don’t know the real circumstances she faced at the time. She had two other children she felt needed her full care. Don’t condemn . . . .

  8. The report Tiggs generated was the result of her investigation along with a team of other people. To wrongly suggest that the report is hers alone simplifies the minimises the concerns for the safety of children in detention. Whilst Tigg’s personal life may bring colour to the overall story, it is irrelevant.

  9. Don’t get me wrong the situation Gillian faced I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However I can’t believe any mother would give up their child because their own life was going to be too difficult and disruptive. What about the millions of mothers through time have accepted their responsibilities, it’s your own child for Christ’s sake.
    Shows the type of person they really are.

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