Unwarranted Departure

Tracy Latimer was born on the 23rd of November 1980. The hospital's fetal heart monitor, which tells doctors if the baby is in distress, is broken. Tracy's oxygen supply was cut off at birth resulting in Cerebral palsy, which is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth. Brain cells die, interrupting motor commands to muscles and causing limbs to spasm. She was the eldest of four children and lived on a farm with her family near Wilkie, Saskatchewan. She attended a developmental program at the same school as her brothers and sister.

She used a specialized wheelchair and enjoyed aquatics, music and pet therapy. She loved special days, events at school, and spending time outdoors with her peers. She loved her family and enjoyed many activities including walks, music, sleigh rides, wiener roasts, bonfires, and watching television, especially hockey games. Despite her many medical problems, Tracy was a happy girl who showed her likes and dislikes by smiling or frowning and laughing with others. A child care worker at Tracy's school, where Tracy spent 8 hours a day, testifies that she was no more physically or mentally disabled than 9 other students at the center where she worked. Tracy died on the 23rd of October 1993 murdered by her father, Robert Latimer.

On Jan. 18 2001, Canada's highest court ordered the already convicted killer Robert Latimer to begin serving a life sentence for the murder of his 12-year-old daughter in 1993. Three years earlier, an appeals judge tried to reduce his sentence to a year in jail and a year of house arrest because the media and the Canadian public felt empathy for Latimer as a father who unfortunately had a child with 'severe' disability. Latimer asphyxiated his daughter by piping exhaust fumes into a pickup truck holding her captive. Latimer claims the murder was out of love and compassion.

The grounds of his appeal include his contention that, "The learned trial judge erred in law in not charging the jury that he had the legal right to decide to commit suicide for his daughter, by virtue of her complete absence of physical and intellectual abilities." He remained a free man for 6 years pending appeals. More than 75 percent of the Canadian population sympathizes with Latimer's actions and say courts should be more lenient for cases involving 'mercy killing'. A web page was set-up to aid Latimer's lawyers in plans to apply for a parliamentary pardon and $100,000 dollars was raised to service his defense. The vast majority of Canadian people favor his early release from prison with some offering to serve one-month periods of his jail time for him.

Let me try to understand this... a man kills his 12 year old daughter and not only does the public cry out in his defense, but they raise money to fight for his freedom and offer to serve his jail time for him. Does the 'normal' able- bodied populace really believe people with disabilities are better off decimated? Do they really believe our lives so unworthy of living?

24th of October 1993 Robert Latimer carried Tracy to his pickup truck, seated her in the cab, and inserted a hose from the truck's exhaust pipe into the cab. Tracy died from the carbon monoxide. The accused at first maintained that Tracy had simply passed away in her sleep, but later confessed to having taken her life. 1st of November 1993, Royal Canadian Police receive toxicology reports revealing that Tracy's blood was 80 percent saturated with carbon monoxide. The sudden-death investigation is reclassified to homicide-murder. 4th of November 1993, police arrive at the Latimer farm, question Robert Latimer, and eventually arrest him and charge him with first degree murder. Latimer confesses to killing Tracy, spends 8 days in jail, and is released from custody under conditions. In later testimony he says, "I honestly don't believe there was ever any crime committed here."

5th of December 1994, Ryan Wilkieson, a 16 year old with cerebral palsy, is murdered by his mother, Cathy, who commits suicide. Carbon monoxide is the cause of both deaths. This is 19 days after Robert Latimer was convicted and at the height of public outpouring of support for Latimer. On The 6th of November 1996, his mother, Danielle, in their Montreal home, drowns Charles Blais, who has autism. Blais attempted suicide unsuccessfully. Originally charged with first-degree murder she later agrees to accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter after psychiatric reports. 2 July 1997--Danielle Blais receives a 23 month suspended sentence for the drowning death of her disabled son, Charles, thus escaping jail time. The judge rejects the Crown's call for a 3-year sentence. Instead of jail, Blais will spend the first year of her sentence in a half way house, submit to psychiatric treatment and find a job. The Autism Society of Greater Montreal offers her a part-time job fund raising.

So in Canada a father kills his daughter and because she is 'disabled' and confined to a wheelchair the media portrays him as almost a hero. Because disability is perceived as hardship society contends our lives to be unworthy of living. What is going on here and where did these people get such distorted misconceptions? A mother kills her son and not only does she not have to serve any time in jail but the agency who should have been advocating for the life of the child she killed offers her a part time job so she won't have to be incarcerated. How does that make sense? Clearly people feel confident that disabled living has far less value than non-disabled life.

Can you imagine the out cry the public would have over a father killing his 12 year old daughter or a mother drowning her young son if disability were not in the picture. What then makes the 'mercy killing' of anyone with a disability humane isn't the killing of any person a crime and atrocity? Parents, society, culture, are entrusted to provide for all children; no matter what state or what form they come into being. All life is precious. Life with a disability can be especially rewarding for establishing relationship with things outside of the realm of normal routine. Who are we to deny life just because some view it as unworthy? Society has upheld many views and biases, which had to be modified over time. We must allow and enable all individuals, no matter their struggle, disability, or disposition, to the chance and destinies that God ordained for their/our lives.

People with disabilities have made up a large part of the population for a long time and we will not simply go away. With the advent of new technologies individuals with disabilities no matter how severe are finding greater opportunity to interact and find worth/joy in living. The public is responsible for fostering life choices for children growing up with disabilities not encourage mercy killing or even physician assisted suicide.

With greater medical miracles being pulled off, we must be focused into empowering life and people. There must be more effort placed into increasing the quality of being for children growing up with disabilities. Like Stephen Hawking, sometimes disability is what grants provision to genius. I find in my life disability gives me time to pursue my truest passions. Who knows what children with disability will contribute to society if just given a chance.

"This case, and more than the case, the public response to the case, served as a powerful wake up call for many in the disabled community. It conveyed to us how very precarious our status in society is, if a life can be taken and there is a kind of public endorsement of that act. It forced us to realize we all have to be involved in fighting this dangerous threat to our very lives."
-Catherine Frazee