Selfadvocatenet.com what research on issues that reflect people with disabilities in our society going to do some topics in news try to alert you on why self advocacy is important reason this is not exceptable in our society so start with this topic below.
Why is this issue Hot topic and self advocates concerns. Going to is try piece out history of when this sad part our society happened. Try to get information on reason why people like Robert Latimer did what did and mercy killed Tracy Latimer and struggle she had with having a disability
So i found a website that has history of when it happen reflect on those with disabilities and media
Check this website Council of Canadians with Disabilities website
The Latimer Case: The Reflections of People with Disabilities – Media
Latimer Wins Case in Media
by Prof. Dick Sobsey, University of Alberta Abuse and Disability Project
A recent poll conducted by the Calgary Sun reported that 92% of more than 500 people who responded thought Robert Latimer was justified in killing his twelve-year-old daughter Tracy Lynn. Amazingly, in another poll of eleven jurors conducted in a Saskatchewan courtroom earlier the same month, 100% found Mr. Latimer guilty of second degree murder. A simple statistical test indicates that the chance of getting results that are this different in two polls are much less than one in 10,000.
Clearly, there must be some explanation other than chance. One explanation is that few, if any, of those supporting Mr. Latimer in Calgary Sun poll were actually present in the courtroom to hear the case against Mr. Latimer. While Mr. Latimer lost his battle with the criminal justice system, he appeared to win in the media. This article asserts that Canadian media systematically distorted the information from the trial that they provided to the public.
This article is written from the perspective of a violence and disability researcher. In particular, it reflects the implications of an integrated ecological model of abuse and disability (Sobsey, 1994). This internationally accepted model, stresses the role of cultural beliefs and attitudes in encouragement or discouragement of violence toward people with disabilities.
In this model, the attitudes that justify “mercy killing” of people with disabilities are viewed not only as a symptom of discrimination and violence, they are also viewed as a fundamental cause of future violence. The bias of the Canadian news media not only trivializes the murder of one child with a disability, it also accelerates the forces that ensure future violence and more deaths. Most of the examples included in this article are presented in general form or taken from a few sources. These examples are not the only or the worst ones. They are simply a few of many that illustrate various points. Most of the specific examples presented here are from print media. In fact, in the opinion of the author of this article, the coverage in
the electronic media has generally been even more biased, but it is more difficult to cite direct quotes without print transcripts available.
Misuse of Language
Print and electronic media chronically used atypical terms to report the facts of the Latimer trial. One national news story managed to report Robert Latimer’s release on bond pending appeal without ever using the word murder or the word conviction. Jenish’s (1994, November 28) Maclean’s story describes the conviction as a jury that “passed a harsh judgement on Latimer”. Exactly why a judgement of guilty of second degree murder with the lightest allowable sentence was harsh in a case where the defendant never denied having committed premeditated homicide of a child is unclear.
Phrases like “suffered from” and “afflicted with” were commonly used to describe Tracy Latimer’s condition. In a single paragraph one (The (Saskatoon) Star Phoenix (Craig, 1993, November 5)) story used the following phrases “suffered from cerebral palsy… afflicted with this condition since birth… suffered daily seizures… (and) wracked with bedsores.”
Tracy Latimer was often described as being too disabled to “request to die”. This is absolutely correct, but it would have been equally correct to say that she was too disabled to beg her father not to kill her. The choice of the former over the latter is a reflection of media bias. It implies that she would have requested this if she had the opportunity. Assuming consent, especially consent to have a criminal offense committed against an individual, is dangerous and unacceptable. If the media used this logic to defend a gang rape of an unconscious individual, Canadians would be properly outraged. A neutral statement might say that because she was unable to speak, she did not make her preferences known. Of course, even if she had consented, this would not have eliminated the criminal nature of the act.
The word “mercy” was commonly used to describe Mr. Latimer’s actions; the word “murder” was rarely used. Maclean’s first article on the trial (Correlli, 1994, November 21), written before the trial was even completed, ran under the title “Mercy on Trial,” providing the conclusion of mercy before presenting any other information about the case. Often when the word “murder” was used, it was modified by such adjectives as “alleged” or “accused”. Ironically, the word “alleged” was rarely, if ever, used to modify “mercy-killing,” in spite of the fact that we have only Mr. Latimer’s word for his motivation. Maclean’s (Jenish, 1994) tells us flatly that Robert Latimer’s motive was “compassion for a child in constant pain” (p. 16). It is not in quotation marks or described as his alleged motive. It is printed as a fact.
One of the grounds for appeal is that the judge did not allow a defense of necessity in the trial. If this approach is allowed in a second trial, the defense may well try to prove the motive of compassion and the prosecution may well try to disprove it. However, this was not an issue in the November, 1994 trial. This issue was addressed primarily outside the courtroom and the sources of information were exclusively from those closely associated with the accused. The motivation of compassion may have been real, but it may not have. It was never tested in the courtroom.
From a violence protection perspective, some simple facts require consideration. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Van Biema, 1994), parents are the killers of approximately two-thirds of all murdered children. The vast majority of these parents report that they love their children. Over 80% of abusive parents, continue to believe that their abuse is justified, even after they have been apprehended. Many of these claim that they acted out of love and in the best interest of their child. How many honestly believe this is unclear.
As acknowledged by Susan Hiatt, Director of the Kempe National Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, “generally parents who kill their children tend to be under a lot of stress” (quoted in Van Biema, 1994). For example, Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who confessed to drowning two young sons after telling the world they had been abducted and that “I don’t think any parent could love their children more than I do, and I would never even think about doing anything that would harm them” (Gibbs, 1994).
When she finally confessed, she indicated that she did it because she loved them and couldn’t bear to see them suffer, and was also under great stress. Nevertheless, the media failed to label her actions as “mercy killing”; her children were not disabled. If, as a society, we choose to accept the justifications of parents who say that they killed their children for good reasons, half of the currently convicted child killers would have to be set free.
Ironically, Susan Smith’s photo appears along with Robert Latimer’s on the front page of the November 5th Saskatoon Star Phoenix. Smith is bent in shame and covering her face while Latimer appears calm and self-assured. The stories go on to tell how a woman outside the courthouse yelled “you’re a baby murderer” at Smith (Prosecutor may seek death…. 1994), while Latimer’s friends and neighbours took up a collection for his defense (Goulding, 1994).
If we choose to extend this courtesy of forgiving crimes committed by parents only to parents of children with disabilities, we increase the danger to the most vulnerable group of children. Children with disabilities are much more likely to be abused than other children. They are twice as likely to be physically abused and almost twice as likely to be sexually abused (Crosse, Kaye, & Ratnofsky, 1993). These relative risks are even greater for children over ten years old since a larger percentage of abused children with disabilities are in this age group. Excusing this abuse on the basis of “parents know what is best for their children” or “that the demands of a child with a disability are too much for parents” to cope with would be totally inconsistent with research.
Research clearly demonstrates that the abuse committed against children with disabilities is not a result of parental stress (Benedict, 1992). In addition, fathers who take an active role in providing personal care to their children are not more likely to abuse their children. Rather, they are less likely to abuse.
Raising questions has been another form of hiding the media bias. One talk show host, discussing Latimer’s killing of his daughter, asked “who better than a parent to make such a decision?” Without parents willing to make decisions about ending their children’s lives, we would only have about one-third the current number of children murdered each year. The same show addressed the topic “is it ever okay to kill a person with a severe disability?” When one caller, the mother of a child with a disability said that she found this topic offensive, the host protested that he was not endorsing killing children with disabilities but just raising the question. Would he feel equally comfortable raising the questions like “is it ever okay to kill women?” or “is it ever okay to kill Aboriginal people?”
If he could understand why a position of neutrality might have been offensive regarding those questions, why is disability so different? Neutrality in the face of homicide is not a moral highground. A slightly less direct version of this question appears as the title of Jenish’s (1994, November 28) Maclean’s cover story “What would you do”? Ryan Wilkieson’s mother answered that question when she killed her son (whose disability was much less severe than Tracy Latimer’s) and herself in a car in Hamilton, Ontario, one week later.
Disputed Facts Presented as Truth
Mr. Latimer’s statements along with those of his lawyers and supporters about his daughter’s chronic suffering and his motivation for killing her were presented as facts. They were rarely tested or disputed. In fact, his honesty about what he had done was presented as proof of his good intentions. The facts that he carried out the act in secrecy, burned evidence, moved his daughter’s body, denied any knowledge about the cause of his daughter’s death, and attempted to have her body cremated to avoid an autopsy have been ignored or de-emphasized in most media accounts. These deceptions were carried out to avoid punishment, and perhaps that justifies them in some people’s minds.
Eleven days after the killing, when confronted with powerful evidence that showed that his daughter had been murdered at a time that only he had the opportunity, he confessed. However, like Susan Smith, as part of his confession, he indicated that he had acted to save his daughter from distress. Was he telling the truth this time? It is impossible to say.
Compounding this question are the facts that he chose to remain silent at his first trial, making it impossible for him to be questioned by the prosecution. He is trying to have his own confession barred from admission if there is a second trial. Of course, he has the right to remain silent and this does not mean that he is guilty. However, if he did not kill his daughter,
motivation is irrelevant. If he did kill her and expects the jury to make an extraordinary exception to homicide based on his intentions, it will be difficult while remaining silent. For the press to unquestioningly suspend disbelief regarding Latimer’s story was absurd. Here is a man who lied before to protect himself, who is trying to have his confession made inadmissible, who never took the stand during his trial, and has no other way out except pleading that it was “mercy”. The press, however, printed his statements as undisputed truths.
In a bizarre application of circular logic, it has been suggested that the proof of his good intentions was his willingness to accept punishment for murder to save his daughter from pain. Thus, since he is willing to be punished, his good intentions are proved, and he should not be punished.
Of course, the prosecutor might have tested Mr. Latimer’s statements more thoroughly, but this was largely irrelevant in the courtroom. The “mercy” defense does not exist under Canadian law. Any prosecutorial effort to bring the case into this area would have been counterproductive. The Crown needed to prove that Robert Latimer killed his daughter and that it was premeditated. The question of mercy was only a factor in the “media trial”.
The media were managed in this case by Mr. Latimer’s team. They were fed information that they consumed and regurgitated to the public. As early as November 12, 1993, only three weeks after Tracy Latimer was killed and a year before the trial, Latimer’s lawyer, in providing the media with vignettes of a typical Canadian farmer under enormous stress who was dedicated to his family, foretold how the press and the community would view the story: “In my view, the community may be adopting the attitude of ‘Don’t judge someone before walking a mile in his moccasins”. (Richard Gibbons quoted in Hoffman, 1993, November 12). This phrase was commonly picked up by the media and later to the general public.
By December of 1993, Robert Latimer had video-taped an hour interview with the CBC. Before the Latimer trial started, Latimer’s lawyer had already hinted that he would attempt to force national attention on the trial and make it a part of the national debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia. The media often portrayed the judge and jury as harsh on Latimer. In fact, they gave the lightest allowable sentence for the most lenient charge that could be considered.
In addition, the Judge accommodated the defense by requiring the prosecution to call Laura Latimer as a witness, even though the prosecution indicated that they did not wish to call her. As a result, Laura Latimer, testified as prosecution witness answering one question: “Did you have dreams for Tracy”? The defense took over asking a long series of questions as—”cross-examination”, allowing the defense to get in the last word.
Latimer gave an exclusive interview to Maclean’s. Jenish’s article, the table of contents, and Robert Lewis’s editorial suggesting that “Latimer clearly loved his daughter” (1994, November 28, p. 2) are strewn with photos of Tracy Latimer with her loving family. Who supplied these and would they provide them for media less supportive of Robert Latimer? Such relationships between media and their subjects blurs the line between news coverage and infomercial.
The willingness of the mainstream media to unquestioningly accept assertions favourable to Robert Latimer as truth was more blatant in view of obvious inconsistencies.
Numerous sources printed a direct quote from Mr. Latimer’s lawyer, describing Tracy Latimer as both in a “vegetative state” and “undergoing tremendous pain as a result of degenerative disease (Quoted in Braden, 1994 November 24). Since a person in a vegetative state is not conscious of or highly reactive to pain, it is difficult to understand how such a statement would be accepted without question.
The fact that cerebral palsy is not a degenerative disease adds to the misinformation. In early accounts of Tracy Latimer’s suffering she was described as “wracked with bedsores” (Craig, 1993, November 5) and no mention is made of a hip dislocation. Later, the hip dislocation became the source of her unrelenting suffering. Tracy Latimer was repeatedly described as being in unrelenting distress. Yet, in Mr. Latimer’s confession, she was in no distress the Sunday morning that he put her in his truck and gassed her.
Media commonly reported that it was impossible to give Tracy Latimer medication for pain because she was taking anti-convulsant medication. In fact, her physician only testified that giving pain medication could be complicated and might be fine for the short term but not as a long term substitute for surgery.
Many media reported that Tracy Latimer was tube-fed. In fact, at the trial, her physician only testified that it might become necessary to tube feed her in the future. In fact, it was only Mark Brayford, the defense attorney who stated that if they tried to medicate her, she would become comatose and have to be fed by a gastrostomy tube.
Omitting Relevant Information
There was a great deal of information that was left out or given only the briefest of mentions in most news coverage. This information was mostly information that was inconsistent with the conclusion of mercy killing. The fact that Tracy Latimer spent almost three months in respite care shortly before the “mercy killing” was often left out or given only passing mention.
The fact that she attended a school program was almost never discussed. These facts cast doubt on the idea that she was totally incapacitated or that she was an unbearable burden for her parents. Robert Latimer’s own description of how he sat in the back of the truck on a tire and watched his dying daughter twitch a few times as she died also has had little attention in the media.
Also, missing from most coverage was the part of Latimer’s confession where he indicated that October 12, 1993, the day that the social worker suggested that they consider placing Tracy permanently in a group home, was the day he began planning out how to kill his daughter. He considered shooting her or burning her to death before arriving at his final plan.
Armies of bioethicists have been called into the studios of radio talk shows to discuss when killing people with disabilities is moral. Why was the media less interested in calling in experts in neurology, cerebral palsy, or pain management who might have questioned the notion that Tracy was in unrelenting pain or that her seizure medication made any type of pain management medication impossible to prescribe.
Many people taking anti-convulsant medication are treated successfully for pain. The only way that it could become clear that the medication could not be used was to try it. Was there any evidence that there was an attempt to treat her for pain? Even if analgesics might have made her drowsy, would it not have made sense to use them if she was in extreme pain and had only 18 more days until the surgery that should alleviate it?
There are many other questions that the press might have asked. Tracy Latimer was described as “dying” at birth and having to be resuscitated with heroic measures. Is that documented in her medical records? Were parental attempts to get treatment for her pain documented in her records?
Other omissions are obvious. One story describes how “dozens of parents with severely disabled children are joining groups such as the Victoria-based Right to Die Society” (Fennel, 1994, November 28). It actually names one of them. It fails to mention the source of the information or whether it has been verified. It also fails to mention that there are about 30,000 or so children with severe disabilities with about 50,000 or so parents in Canada.
Depersonalization of the Victim
Many more articles about this trial featured pictures of the accused than the victim of the crime. When Tracy Latimer was described, it was almost exclusively in terms of her disability. Little is mentioned of what she enjoyed, of how she interacted with other children, of what she did in her school program. For example, one photo featured in Maclean’s (Jenish, 1994) that shows Tracy (in no obvious distress) sitting on her mother’s lap with her brother and sister bears the caption “constant pain” (p.18).
Bob Latimer however is repeatedly described as a clean-cut, well-liked, hard working all Canadian guy. For example, the Jenish (1994, November 28) “What would you do?” article starts out by inviting the reader to identify with Latimer:
Among his friends and neighbours in Wilkie, Sask., 41-year-old Robert Latimer was considered a typical prairie farmer. Hardworking, clean-living, and self-reliant… (p. 16).
In fact, Robert Latimer is obviously the subject of most of the coverage. Tracy Latimer was only an object. There was very little reason to try to capture the fullness of her life. By describing her only in terms of her surgeries, her pain, her disabilities, Tracy Latimer was dehumanized in the media.
In the violence literature, dehumanization and objectification are called depersonalization. Depersonalization is a critical factor in disinhibiting violence. It is the process of creating social distance. When the social distance is great enough, people no longer feel inhibition or guilt in directing violence toward an individual. Tracy’s media identity as “damaged goods” allowed the public to dismiss the crime against her. A crime committed against a “nonperson” is not considered a crime. Creating this image was not difficult since society already has learned much of this bias against people with disabilities.
Months before Tracy Latimer was murdered, an experiment conducted by the University of Alberta Abuse and Disability Project tested this hypothesis. A group of law students who had completed their criminal law classwork were asked to read a short vignette that described an individual who had been convicted of an assault. Then they were asked what sentence would be appropriate.
The vignettes that they read were all the same except that half described the victim simply as “a co-worker” while the other half described the victim as “a co-worker who was mentally handicapped”. Since the crimes were identical, the sentences should have been the same, but they were significantly different.
When the subject was described as mentally handicapped, eight times as many people thought that a suspended sentence would be adequate, and only 29% (compared to 53% for the victim without a disability) thought jail time should be required.
Real life examples of such attitudes are not hard to find. When four teenagers in Glen Ridge, New Jersey were arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting a woman with a mental disability, the community was quick to support them. Like Latimer, these highschool athletes were the pride of their community and many members of the community expressed dismay that she had ruined their lives. Police in Edmonton reported intense public interest when a woman was burned alive. However, they reported that the public lost interest when the media revealed that victim was described as Native and disabled.
Blurring of Issues
Another bias reflected in the media was the frequent link created between this case and the Sue Rodriguez case. The Sue Rodriguez case was frequently cited as a related or similar occurrence. In some of the cases, media bothered to point out that they were really not the same thing since Ms. Rodriguez was an adult and wanted to die, and Tracy was a child killed by her parent without her consent. We believe that Rodriguez’s death was a suicide, or at least voluntary euthanasia.
Suicide is not murder. Failure to protect oneself or to assert one’s rights does not constitute consent. However, if these media sources really believed that the cases were unrelated and did not want to foster such a link they would not continually mention the Rodriguez case in reporting the Latimer case. For example, if they repeatedly mentioned the Exxon Valdez case, occasionally bothering to point out, that it was not really the same as the Latimer case, it would imply that in some way the cases are linked.
Ironically, there is a possible link between the two cases that news media have not explored. One that they might find unpalatable. One that they have never explored. Could Robert Latimer’s decision to kill his daughter or his decision to defend the killing as being merciful have been influenced by media coverage of the Sue Rodriguez case? We will probably never know. What we do know is that Robert Latimer made the decision to kill his daughter on October 12, 1993, 12 days after the Supreme Court turned down Sue Rodriguez’s request for assisted suicide, in the midst of a massive media discussion about the Rodriguez case. We do know that if Robert Latimer watched Canadian national news, read a Canadian magazine or newspaper during that period, he was exposed to the Canadian media coverage of the case and of other “mercy killing” cases, the vast majority of which supported the notion that death was better than disability. The following list provides some of the articles that he may have read during that period:
- October 11, 1993, “A wrenching decision: Canada’s top court rejects assisted suicide” Maclean’s
- October 10, 1993, “Staff knew patient was to die: Nurses given counselling, orders to keep mouths shut” Winnipeg Free Press
- October 9, 1993, “‘I am now forced to take my life’ ” The Globe and Mail
- October 7, 1993, “Law leaves patients hungering for death” Winnipeg Free Press
- October 2, 1993, “Good reasons for active euthanasia” Financial Post
- October 1, 1993, “Right to die decision now up to Parliament” Toronto Star
These are only a few of many. Radio and television coverage were not substantially different during that time. During the following twelve days, between the time that Robert Latimer made his decision and when he actually killed his daughter, the media continued their discussion with articles like:
- October 24, 1993, “Sisters helped mom die,” Winnipeg Free Press
- October 23,1993, ” `Suicide doctor’ watches woman inhale lethal gas,” Toronto Star
- October 18,1993, “Mom fights for son’s right to die at school,” Vancouver Sun
- October 18,1993, “Let nature take its course: Disabled boy’s mother wants school board to allow him to die,” Winnipeg Free Press
- October 13,1993, “Right to die issue touchy,” Winnipeg Free Press
Again, these stories are only a few of many. The 24 days between the Rodriguez decision and Tracy Latimer’s murder inundated Canadians with messages that it might be acceptable, it might be desirable, it might be defensible to kill someone with a disability in the name of love.
Until and unless the media and the public can distinguish between assisted suicide and nonvoluntary euthanasia cases, people with disabilities and all who advocate for them must stand firmly against any form of assisted suicide or euthanasia.
It is ironic that Maclean’s chose the use of the word “wrenching” to describe the Rodriguez decision one day before the Latimer murder, and then used it again to describe the verdict in the Latimer trial, one week before Ryan Wilkieson was murdered.
On December 5,1994, 19 days after the Latimer conviction, 16-year-old Ryan Wilkieson who also had cerebral palsy, was killed like Tracy Latimer by his mother in Hamilton, Ontario.
The link seemed more apparent. Michael Valpy (1994, December 8) writing in The Globe and Mail suggested “We can assume some link to, some influence from, the trial and second degree murder conviction three weeks ago of Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer for killing his 12 year-old daughter Tracy – in a vehicle, with carbon monoxide – who also had cerebral palsy” (p. A2).
A friend of Ms. Wilkieson’s, Gloria Christianson, indicated that she warned the Ontario Social Services Minister that this tragedy was coming on November 19th, three days after the Latimer conviction was announced, three days of media blitz. Because Ms. Wilkieson committed suicide when she killed her son, she need not fear prosecution.
Because the national media sent a clear message to Ms. Wilkieson that it would be okay to take her son’s life, she need not fear public outrage. Valpy’s Globe and Mail column tells us that the Wilkieson tragedy is connected to the Latimer case, but it ignores the fact that only the Canadian national media could link the two. The images of the Latimer case viewed by Cathy Wilkieson were not accurate transcripts of a trial. They were shaped by the lens of the Canadian national media.
This phenomenon is not new. “In 1927, an English jury acquitted a father who killed his daughter to end her suffering; within a space of two weeks, England contributed one and the United States two parallel cases.” (Brill, 1936, p. 10). Brill writing in 1936, describes several other cases of copycat “mercy killings” after “reading the latest discussion of the problem” (p. 10).
None of this is to say that Cathy Wilkieson’s actions were a direct result of the media treatment of the Latimer case. In the words of her friend, “she murdered a son that she loved, that’s an act of despair, not mercy”. Christianson quoted in Desperate warning …. p. Al6). Her request for additional funds for home care for her son had been turned down by social services. She was having a difficult time. Maybe it was just a question of the wrong message at the wrong time. Maybe it would have happened anyway.
The same media that provided Canadians with lengthy discussions of how television programs like “Power Rangers,” and movies like “Natural Born Killers” incite violence, provided Canadians with our view of the Rodriguez and Latimer cases. The same media that asks why our society is becoming more violent, tells us that killing is wrong, unless, the people being killed have disabilities.
The same media that tells us that holocaust revisionists are inciting hatred, feeds our children the attitudes that disinhibit violence toward people with disabilities. None of this questions whether Robert Latimer loved his daughter Tracy. None of this questions whether Cathy Wilkieson loved her son Ryan. Do not doubt that the vast majority of parents who murder their nondisabled children, truly love them. It is not a question of love, it is a matter of murder.
The Latimer and Wilkieson murders both occurred during periods of time when Canadian media coverage of mercy killings was most intense and most sympathetic. Media coverage did not cause these murders. If such coverage contributed to these murders, it did so in the same way that pornography contributes to rape.
Historical Note on Propaganda and Mercy Killing
The media also have attempted to link the case to abortion. For example Maclean’s discussed the Henry Morgantaler acquittal for abortion and suggested that the same process might have acquitted Mr. Latimer (Chisholm, 1994). This encourages those who believe in free choice on abortion to believe that a man killing his twelve-year-old daughter without her consent is somehow upholding the same principle.
On November 2, 1935, the British Medical Journal announced the formation of the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society “in order to promote the legalization of painless death for incurables, and to educate public opinion” (Voluntary Euthanasia, p. 856). The brief article is sympathetic to the cause and provides information on how readers can join or contribute money. As the article states “A fund is being raised to meet the necessary expenses and carry on propaganda” (p. 856).
Early in 1939, a father from Leipzig Germany who also “loved” his severely handicapped son, just like Robert Latimer loved his severely handicapped daughter, wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler asking if it would not be okay to end the boy’s life. Hitler dispatched his personal physician Karl Brandt to determine if the boy’s life was “worth living”. When Brandt reported back that it was not, Hitler authorized him to give the boy a merciful death.
Unlike Canada, Germany’s laws could bend a little for such a special case. Subsequently, Brandt was authorized to permit physicians to kill other people with disabilities. Safeguards were put in place. Every case was reviewed by at least two physicians to certify that his or her life was not worth living and that he or she was incurable.
No one knows the number of people who were killed in this program. Some estimates are as “low” as 20,000, others as high as 400,000. Most suggest that the number was about 275,000. The methods of killing varied, lethal injections and carbon monoxide were commonly used because they were painless. Before mass extermination made carbon monoxide canisters practical, gassings were commonly conducted using the exhaust from trucks.
Later, custom built gas chambers were built for the “euthanasia” program. To prevent the victims from being alarmed, the gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms. Only much later were the personnel, equipment, and methods learned in the euthanasia program exported to the ethnic death camps. The holocaust blossomed from the “mercy killing” of one severely handicapped child back in 1939.
After the war, Canada joined the world in trying these war criminals at Nuremberg. The euthanasia program was declared a crime against humanity. Karl Brandt’s defense was much the same as Robert Latimer’s. He said that he had been involved in the killings but only of people who were incurably ill or disabled. He only acted to spare them from suffering. He was a respected and productive person, a personal friend of Albert Schweitzer. The vast majority of Germans, including some parents of handicapped children applauded the euthanasia program. If what Robert Latimer did was good, what Karl Brandt did was several hundred thousand times as good. Brandt was convicted of crimes against humanity and executed. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now. Today, the Canadian media put a different spin on it. The Nazis spent huge amounts of money on propaganda to gain support for the euthanasia program. The centrepiece of their propaganda was a movie called Ich KIage Ahn (I Accuse). The movie was designed to gain public support for changing the laws to allow mercy killing. The central plot was about a woman with a neurological disease who was losing control of her muscles who wanted help to commit suicide.
As a secondary plot, a physician was faced with an ethical dilemma when parents of a severely handicapped child beg him to kill the child. In intermingling images of these two cases the Nazi propagandists manipulate the viewers to believe that these issues were one and the same. At the end of the movie, both killings have been completed. Thomas, the husband who assisted his wife Hannah’s suicide, stands before the court accused of homicide much like Robert Latimer and says:
No! Now I accuse! I accuse the law which hinders doctors and judges in their task of helping people. I confess … I have delivered my wife from her sufferings, following her wishes. My life and the lives of all people who will suffer the same fate as my wife, depends on your verdict. Now, pass your verdict.
In much the same tone, Mark Brayford, Robert Latimer’s lawyer in asking the jury to acquit Latimer suggested, “If my client has committed any sin against God, God will judge him” (Jang, 1994, p. A2). This may be true, but it does not exempt Mr. Latimer or anyone else from the human justice system.
The Third Reich spent a great deal of effort and money to convince society that laws that protect the lives of vulnerable people only get in the way of great men. People ask how could people let the terrible events of the holocaust happen. This is how it happened. Little was said by the propagandists for the Third Reich that we have not read in the newspapers and magazines, seen on the televisions, or heard on the radios of Canada today. Like the people of Germany 53 years ago, Canadians today are being asked to pass their verdict.
This article raises the issue of media bias in the reporting of the Latimer trial. It suggests that attitudes expressed increase the potential for future violence against people with disabilities. It has implications for the media and for those concerned about the welfare of people with disabilities.
Before addressing the implications for these two groups, it is important to point out that not all coverage of the Latimer Trial was as negative toward people with disabilities as the examples cited above. I will include only a few examples here. The Edmonton Journal ran stories on the need for more support for families (Faulder, 1994, November 26), and the horrified reaction of a parent to the killing of Tracy Latimer (Ohler, 1994), in addition to an editorial suggesting that Tracy Latimer’s life was worth protecting (Goyette, 1994, November 23). The Globe and Mail was more careful about its use of language than some other media and included an editorial supporting the “rightmindedness of the judgement passed in the case” (Robert Latimer’s mistaken choice, 1994, p. A24).
Many of the facts presented at the Latimer trial and much of the perspective of the disability community that have been ignored by Canada’s mainstream media have been presented by the media on the political right. Alberta Report and British Columbia Report for example carried Woodward’s (1994) story. While the political motivations of such conservative media is no less apparent in these magazines, they provided many accurate details that the liberal media simply ignored and they provided the reactions of people with disabilities and their families.
Similarly, these media have carried other stories on the concerns and fears of the disabled community about the proposed assisted suicide and euthanasia laws. A perspective that has been largely ignored by mainstream media. For example, Brunet’s (1994) story, “Any law would lead to abuse”, presented the views of Dr. Gregor Wolbring, the North American representative of the German Council on Self Determined Living. Wolbring’s views, along with those of others with disabilities who warn of the dangers of assisted suicide and euthanasia have been swept under the rug by the mainstream media. It is simply too discrepant with their agenda.
People with disabilities must speak and be heard on this issue. If Canadian media are successful in silencing their concerns and objections to proposals on euthanasia and assisted suicide, they will have even greater difficulty making their voices heard when decisions are being made about their future existence.
Implications for the Media
This article concludes that the media coverage of the Latimer trial was irresponsible, biased and dangerous. It may have contributed to the death of two people already, and it is almost certain to contribute to further crimes against people with disabilities. The media need to determine their own standards for reporting. They need to clarify for themselves and for the public when they are attempting to report the news and when they are attempting to sway public opinion. The reporting of the Latimer trial should be carefully reviewed. As author of this article, I believe that there are enough competent and responsible people in the Canadian media to address this problem. I hope that they will choose to do that.
Implications for People with Disabilities and Their Advocates
This article concludes that people with disabilities, particularly those who cannot articulate their own needs, are currently in great jeopardy. The attitudes expressed in the press about these people can only increase their risk for violence and death. The Latimer case and the media coverage that followed it suggest the worst implications of the current Canadian debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia for people with disabilities. While assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia are presented as autonomous choices for all Canadians, they have great potential to become death warrants for people with disabilities.
The fundamental issue of life and death decisions is free and informed consent. Proposals to allow proxy decision makers to kill people with disabilities are currently being considered in Canada. For example, Professor Eike-Henner W. Kluge, from the University of Victoria in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide given in Vancouver on September 27, 1994 suggested that “duly empowered proxy decision-making” would allow parents and guardians to consent to euthanasia for mentally incompetent people. Kluge stresses that if competent people are to be given the right to assisted suicide, incompetent people must have the right to be killed through the decisions of proxies.
This issue of assisted suicide is potentially the most important human rights issue to face people with disabilities in Canada in this century. Nevertheless, people with disabilities and those who are concerned about their welfare have largely ignored the issue. If any form of
assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalized in Canada, it is essential that it has adequate procedural safeguards for people with disabilities. Everything possible must be done to stop any change of the current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia until and unless we can be assured that adequate safeguards exist. Whether such safeguards are possible still remains uncertain. The Latimer case and its portrayal in the media raise doubts that assisted suicide can ever be allowed without condemning some people with disabilities to an unrequested death.
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(“The Media and Robert Latimer”, reprinted with permission from ARCHTYPE August 1995)