Marlowe's Shade

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Euthanasia Hall of Shame: Robert Latimer

The case of the murder of Tracy Latimer is almost unknown in the US, even among pro-life advocates. But in Canada it was and continues to be a rallying point for both sides of the euthanasia debate.

Robert Latimer, a farmer working a spread in Saskatchewan northwest of Saskatoon, killed his 12-year-old daughter Tracy on October 24, 1993. There has never been any doubt about this.

Latimer told police he did it. He said he loved his daughter and could not bear to watch her suffer from a severe form of cerebral palsy. So he placed her in the cab of his Chevy pickup, ran a hose from the exhaust to the cab, climbed into the box of the truck, sat on a tire and watched her die.

Latimer's "compassion" defense was based on Tracy's condition:

Tracy was a 40-pound quadriplegic, a 12-year-old who functioned at the level of a three-month-old. She had been repeatedly operated on and at the time of her murder was due for more surgery, this time to remove a thigh bone. She could not walk, talk or feed herself, though she responded to affection and occasionally smiled. Tracy was in constant, excruciating pain yet, for reasons not entirely clear, could not be treated with a pain-killer stronger than Tylenol.

Charged with first-degree murder and convicted a year later of second-degree (despite the fact that it was obviously premeditated) murder. Seven years later an attempt to overturn the conviction went to the Canadian Supreme Court, where the conviction was upheld.

Despite the fact that this taking of innocent life was not condoned by any legislation, regulated by any guidelines, or assisted by any doctors, Canadian right-to-die advocates, the press and the judge whose ruling nearly set him free all came to Latimer's defense and sought to portray Tracy's killing as an act of kindness. Here was Justice Ted Noble's portrayal in his decision:

New legal ground was broken in December, 1997, when Justice Ted Noble – trying to distinguish between mercy killing and cold-blooded murder – granted Latimer a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence for second-degree murder. He explained that, for Latimer, the minimum sentence would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

Noble carefully detailed the reasons for his decision, anticipating the controversy it would provoke – and the likelihood it would be appealed. He said the law "recognizes that the moral culpability or the moral blameworthiness of murder can vary from one convicted offender to another." He called Tracy Latimer's murder a "rare act of homicide that was committed for caring and altruistic reasons. That is why for want of a better term this is called compassionate homicide."

As in Terri Schiavo's case, there is the curious tendency of devotees of moral relativism to ascribe the most honorable motives to those who seek the death of the disabled in their care. But they ignore the innocence and helplessness of the victims and discount the value of the lives of the disabled. The prosecution in the case was successful in making this very point.

The Crown argued that Tracy was a relatively cheerful child, and her rights were violated by being killed by her father. According to the Crown brief presented at Latimer's second trial:

"Tracy enjoyed outings, one of which was to the circus, where she smiled when the horses went by. She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them.

"There is no dispute that through her life, Tracy at times suffered considerable pain. As well, the quality of her life was limited by her severe disability. But the pain she suffered was not unremitting, and her life had value and quality."

To this day Robert Latimer is unrepentant and says he still believes he did the right thing.

I'll give Judith Snow of the Ontario Advocacy Coalition the last word on this case:

As I approach my fiftieth year I chalk up a long list of infirmities that I live with in an uneasy harmony or have actually overcome through ingenuity and considerable help. On my list are quadriplegia, 25% breathing capacity, inoperable fibroids, chronic kidney stones, hepatitis C, post-traumatic shock, osteoporosis, diabetes and a variety of food and drug allergies. At various times, sometimes for years at a stretch, I have lived with relentless pain, itch and/or depression. I have stared my own death in the eyes not less than six times in 49 years.

I know many other people, personally, who like Tracy Latimer do not share in words their appreciation for life or their own perceptions of the beauty and complexity of our world. Not speaking, but certainly not silent either, these people, fellow travelers of life have known the heights and depths of joy and suffering too


The very worst thing about being a Canadian with disabilities is the death sentence in our culture's eyes, the death sentence that stops every person without the courage from looking past the surface or thinking past the hype. People easily decide that I want to be, soon will be, should be, already am dead. Robert Latimer and his wife were handed an excuse by society that has already decided--helped in large part by the media that feed on the sensational and sentimental. The same media and society write the lines for Svend Robinson and Sue Rodriguez to faithfully parrot on the way to her grave--and beyond into prime time TV.

Save me from one thing and one thing alone. Save me from all those who would have me dead for my own good!
papijoe 6:31 AM