The other night, before I went to bed, I logged onto the Internet to find out what had happened to Robert Latimer. Before I could fall asleep, I wanted to know if he had been granted his request for day parole or not. (As the parent of a disabled child, I have a particular interest in the case.) I let in my son's night nurse, learned that Robert Latimer had been denied his request, and sunk into a deep sleep.
Mr. Latimer, who killed his 12-year-old severely disabled daughter Tracy in 1993, has been serving his sentence in a minimum security facility near Victoria, playing tennis and taking electronics courses in his spare time. Unfortunately for him, the National Parole Board concluded that his refusal to show any remorse or guilt, and his insistence that the murder was a private, family matter, made him ineligible for parole. Additionally, and perhaps most damning - he did not deny that under similar circumstances in the future, that he would repeat the same actions.
I have experienced many of the same things as Robert Latimer and his daughter. While my child has a different condition than Tracy had, my husband and I are also part of a coalition of "special parents" who become parent-physician-advocates because of their child's disabilities. We have been through hospitalizations, multiple surgeries, life-threatening infections, intravenous feedings, tube feedings and "failure to thrive." We have had suction machines, not to mention countless therapists and community nurses pass through our home. Is it easy? No. It's very difficult, day in and day out. But unlike Robert Latimer, I have never considered passing a death sentence on my child. Mr. Latimer decided to find a permanent solution to what may have been some temporary conditions facing Tracy.
As a result of my son's disabilities, I have met hundreds of people whom I would never have been exposed to otherwise. They are the parents in similar situations, the therapists and physicians, the nurses and educational assistants who are dedicated to improving the lives of disabled children. They celebrate every developmental gain, no matter how seemingly small. We celebrate our children's first steps, first sounds, first hugs and first words. We talk about diets, doctors and therapies, and listen to each other as we navigate through an entirely uncharted path of parenthood that none of us ever expected. We offer each other words of support and comfort.
In turn, my son and his peers give people a glimpse into a life that is challenged, but not without meaning and worth. Disabled children touch people in a unique way. They remind us of how lucky one is to have healthy, "normal" children. But more importantly, as some of the most vulnerable members of our society, the way in which they are treated is a direct reflection of our society's compassion and humanity.
Robert Latimer's defenders speak of his compassion, and continue to insist that his actions should be examined in the specific context of Tracy's condition. They say his actions will not inspire copycat actions.
But will future murders of disabled children also be considered merciful? And if so, what conditions meet the requirements of a life not worth living and who makes that call? One could make an argument that children with anaphylactic allergies have an extremely compromised quality of life. Could the same not be said about diabetic and asthmatic children? How should one characterize the life of amputees, or pediatric arthritics?
Given his lax sentencing, and growing number of public defenders, what will deter this type of crime in the future?
We know what Robert Latimer did on that fateful day. What Robert Latimer did not do is also clear. He did not put his daughter into foster care. He did not make her a ward of the state. It is also not clear if he solicited any second opinions for his daughter regarding pain management for non-verbal individuals. He just bundled her up and killed her. The last face she saw in her short time on earth was the face of the man who helped create her and would be her killer, too.
A society that condones his actions is one that has rejected the sanctity of human life. Instead of comforting the disabled, it sees them with horror and revulsion, and deserving of the death penalty. Instead of finding ways of making their challenged lives difficult, it snuffs them out.
For parents of disabled children, life is never easy, but death is most certainly final. Unfortunately for Tracy Latimer, it was the only option Robert Latimer ever considered.