Thursday January 17, 2002
Protecting the Lives of People With Disabilities: The Robert Latimer Case
By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
On January 18, 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that Robert Latimer serve the mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder, 10 years in prison before parole eligibility.
Some Canadians believe that Robert Latimer’s sentence was too harsh. They are asking Parliament to grant him the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Only a misguided mercy would result in leniency for Robert Latimer. By killing his defenseless daughter, he opened the door for many others to do the same.
Professor Dick Sobsey of the University of Alberta discovered that since 1994 in Canada, the homicide or attempted homicide rate, where the victim had a developmental disability, increased by 88.5%, while the rate in the United States was virtually unchanged. Professor Sobsey refers to this increased rate of disabled homicide victims as the “Latimer Legacy”.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision assured vulnerable Canadians that they are protected under the law, and it delivered a strong message that killing people with disabilities is always unacceptable.
Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy on October 24, 1993, by putting her into the cab of the family pickup truck, connecting a hose from the exhaust into the cab of the truck, and gassing her.
There are many misconceptions pertaining to the Latimer case that are held by the public.
Tracy Latimer was born with severe cerebral palsy. She was unable to walk, or talk. She had seizures and was mentally disabled. She was dependant on others for all of her basic needs. But, Tracy also smiled, laughed, and cried. She could communicate and recognize people she knew. She loved music and campfires. She could turn on and off a radio that was attached to her wheelchair. She could be fed with a spoon and went by bus to school everyday. Tracy was a little girl with special needs.
Robert Latimer claimed that Tracy was experiencing constant and uncontrollable pain, leaving him with no choice but to kill her “out of love” in order to end her suffering. This testimony conflicts with the writings in Laura Latimer’s (Robert’s wife) diary and the testimony of Tracy’s teacher.
Laura’s diary stated that Tracy was often happy and smiling, and near the end of her life she had been eating well. Tracy’s teacher described her as a happy and loving person who was not in constant pain when she was properly seated.
Tracy Latimer had a dislocated hip and surgery was scheduled to alleviate the pain. Robert Latimer was charged with murder on the same day that this surgery was scheduled (November 4, 1993).
Some people believe that Robert Latimer killed his daughter due to lack of respite care and quality services. The reality is Tracy had lived in a respite home from July until early October 1993. Tracy went to school every day. On October 12, just twelve days before her death, Robert Latimer was offered a permanent placement for Tracy in North Battleford. He turned down that placement and stated that he had ‘other plans’. He had already decided to kill Tracy.
There are thousands of people in Canada who have physical and mental disabilities. For some people, pain and symptom management are a normal part of their lives. These people need to be protected from those who question their humanity and their right to live. No one can judge the ‘quality of life’ of another person.
Tracy needed care and protection, not death. Robert Latimer broke his daughters trust and killed her. A just society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. A just society demands that Robert Latimer serve the mandatory sentence for what he did – murder his own child.
In order to protect all vulnerable Canadians, Robert Latimer must serve his time.