(Ed note: Although a second trial found Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his disabled daughter, Tracy, there is concern over the jury’s recommendation of leniency. Does it indicate a two-tier justice system, one for the able-bodied and another for the disabled?)
The disabled community is speaking out and the right-to-die movement is getting nervous.
“A few vocal disabled groups have been speaking loudly and meddling in the [Tracy Latimer] case,” complained Marilynne Seguin, a founding member of Dying with Dignity. The Calgary Herald quoted Seguin as saying, “I don’t know how Mr. Latimer can receive justice. He has suffered in so many ways and to such a degree none of us could even imagine.
Disabled people monitored Robert Latimer’s second murder trial from wheelchairs in the courtroom. They fear a lenient sentence for Latimer will declare an “open season” on the disabled. Here is what some advocates for the disabled have to say, much of it quoted from Latimer Watch (LW), the official publication of The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD):
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) holds the position that the murder of a person with a disability must be treated the same as any other murder. CCD found it “disappointing that the Crown did not see fit to appeal the original acquittal on first degree murder” (LW, Oct. 23).
The CCD opposes assisted suicide. “CCD does not believe that it would be possible to create truly effective safeguard measures …” (LW, Oct. 29).
“Whereas all human life is inherently worth living … Canadians who live with a disability should enjoy the right to live a full life that is valued, supported and protected. All efforts to end the lives of Canadians with disabilities should be condemned; killing people who live with a disability whatever the intent or motivation, can never be justified. (The Association for Community Living – Manitoba, Oct. 18).
[Marilynn] Seguin [of Dying with Dignity] shows the real face of the right-to-die movement. She claims that no one knows what it was like to be Tracy Latimer. She tells us no one (particularly not other people with disabilities) has the right to speak for Tracy Latimer, but Seguin goes on to speak for Tracy Latimer by telling us that Tracy’s life was not worth living and not worth protecting. (Dick Sobesy and Dr. George Wolbring, Alberta, LW, Nov. 3).
Since Tracy’s killing there have been more killings: Ryan Wilkieson, Katie Lynn Baker. Charles Blais, Andrea Halpin. The killing of people with disabilities will continue until society wakes up and begins to punish the killers of people with disabilities with the full force of the law. (LW, Oct. 23).
Disability is not just cause for murder. (Irene Feike, LW, Oct. 16).
I am 11 years old and have really severe cerebral palsy … I can’t walk or talk or feed myself, but I am not ‘suffering from cerebral palsy.’ I use a wheelchair but I am not ‘confined to a wheelchair.’ I have pain, but I don’t need to be ‘put out of my misery.’ My body is not my enemy. It is that which allows me to enjoy Mozart, experience Shakespeare, savor a bouillabaisse feast and cuddle my Mom. Life is a precious gift. It belongs to the person to whom it was given, not to her parents, not to the state. Tracy’s life was hers to make of it what she could. My life is going to be astounding. (Teague Johnson, 11 years old Vancouver Sun, 9 Dec. 1994).
[In the first Latimer murder trial] J. Bayda told the court that Robert Latimer was the “salt of the earth” … Justice Bayda, if you recall, was the same judge who acquitted Robert when he was in his early twenties, of rape charges. There was no question he had raped the girl, the problem had to do with some misrepresentation of evidence. Ironically, once again Robert seems to have gotten off on a technicality. (Cheryl Eckstein, Compassionate Healthcare Network, British Columbia, LW Oct. 30 – 31/97).
I am concerned that this [Latimer case] is just the beginning of a downward spiral of death making … We must never allow the principle that parents can decide to end the life of any of their children no matter what the circumstances. … The quality of life argument built around Tracy Latimer and others with severe disabilities is a trap. … Only the state has the power to execute. The state has never delegated this power to families. … If execution by parents becomes acceptable, it could create a whole new decade of withdrawals of services. (Allan Simpson, a past CCD Chair, Manitoba, LW 20 Oct).
Would it … be more accurate to conjecture that Mr. Latimer aimed to put Tracy out of his suffering rather than hers … there are parents and care-givers out there who would be tempted to kill their disabled dependents if Latimer is not sentenced to long-term imprisonment. A woman has publicly stated that if Robert Latimer “got off,” she too would kill her disabled daughter. What further evidence is required? (Elizabeth Semkiw, LW Sept. 18).