An article on feminist website XOJane summarizes a disturbing phenomenon, which is not the modern trend it appears to be: young people with disabilities being killed by members of their own families. Robert Latimer’s inhumane “solution” to the struggles of his daughter Tracy is a prominent Canadian example. Others highlighted in the article include:
22-year-old George Hodgins of Sunnyvale, California. Hodgins, who had autism, was shot by his mother Elizabeth who then turned the gun on herself;
18-year-old Karandeep Arora of India, reported to have various mobility and intellectual disabilities as well as blindness, was killed by his parents who then jumped in front of a train;
17-year-old Leosha Barnett of Texas was starved to death by her mother and sister. Barnett had epilepsy, possible mobility disabilities, and intellectual disabilities;
8-year-old Gerren Isgrigg of Texas, who had a seizure disorder as well as severe mobility, vision and hearing impairments, was left to starve in the woods by his grandmother. Isgrigg received sustenance through a feeding tube.
In 2005, talk-show host Dr. Phil spoke with a woman whose two children have Sanfillippo syndrome (slowing and eventual decline of development, with symptoms that include severe dementia, progressive motor disease, and behavioural problems), and lived in a care home. Annette Corriveau believed that her children did not want to live in their current state and that she ought to have the right to kill them to put them out of their misery.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told The Interim that unfortunately killing those with disabilities is “part of our culture, it’s something that we’ve always done,” but usually in secret. “It has become a bit more prevalent, even though there are more services,” but there “is an ingrained attitude that it’s better not to have a disability.”
The increasing popularity of this outlook is connected to a rejection of “the ethic that says killing is wrong,” Schadenberg explained. We can still argue that the deaths of people with disabilities are “a bad idea,” he said, but for many family members, and increasingly the medical establishment, “eliminating suffering is the ultimate goal.” Our society has come to believe that there are trials in the world greater than what humans should have to bear, Schadenberg explained.
Schadenberg said that there are double standards when it comes to people with disabilities. “For example, if I am 45 and need a certain treatment while healthy, it can be done. If I need the same treatment with a disability, it would be very difficult to get that treatment. We can’t make futile care decisions based on different physical conditions.”
On the other hand, he noted that “we can’t hold everyone’s hand and guide them to the right decision. Society has gone out of control. We need to keep explaining our position and live with the message we are portraying.”
Not all of the problems faced by individuals with disabilities today are lethal, but those that appear less severe could develop into problems. Schadenberg pointed to the late Wolf Wolfensberger, a key player in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of institutions and into community life. “If you never see them, you grow cold to them and do not love them,” said Schadenberg. People with disabilities were, “not seen as human and (could) therefore be eliminated” with ease. In contrast, Schadenberg believes that having a sibling with a condition such as Down’s syndrome familiarizes people with disability. The sibling without a disability is more comfortable having a child with one, as are any friends who had been introduced to the family.
Our society is not as accepting as we would like to believe, Schadenberg said. Those with physical disabilities can get to public buildings such as the post office or bank by using ramps, but that is not enough. Anyone who cannot work full days must rely on barely-adequate government support for most of their income. He said people with disabilities need more support.
Schadenberg said, that while the killing of children with disabilities has long been a problem, modern concepts of human rights, technological improvements that can lead to better standards of living, and new treatments, should make the murder of children with disabilities a thing of the past. However, he points to the effect that the sympathetic treatment in the media and by the courts of such killers, may be turning their murderous actions into courageous or heroic acts, and increase the likelihood of people in similar situations resorting to similar drastic measures, the so-called Latimer effect.