Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Latimer case haunts us still

The Regina Saskatchewan Leader-Post newspaper printed a godd editorial today about Robert Latimer, the man who killed his daughter Tracy in 1993. Tracy lived with cerebral palsy.

The Leader-Post editorial states:
Robert Latimer begins a new life on full parole next week, but his name will always figure when euthanasia is debated.

Robert Latimer might be hoping for a quiet life of anonymity when he gets full parole next week, but it's unlikely to happen.

Controversy still swirls around Latimer, the Wilkie-area farmer who spent years in prison for killing his severely disabled daughter in 1993.

Latimer called it an act of mercy to end 12-year-old Tracy's suffering. Born with cerebral palsy, Tracy weighed just 40 pounds, endured regular convulsions and was about to have a permanent feeding tube installed in her stomach and undergo surgery to remove parts of her dislocated hip. Latimer insisted, "There are wrong things and there are right things and I did the right thing (in ending her life)."

The law disagreed -- and so do we. An eight-year roller-coaster ride through the legal system culminated in January, 2001 with the Supreme Court of Canada upholding Latimer's life sentence for second-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 10 years. After a National Parole Board panel denied his application for day parole in 2007, the board's appeals division reversed that decision early in 2008 and allowed his day release.

The case proved fiercely divisive. Latimer supporters said his actions were motivated by love and a desire to not see Tracy suffer further. They also argued for a change in the law to enable judges to impose a lighter sentence in extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, a Saskatchewan judge tried to exempt Latimer from the minimum sentence after his second conviction in 1997, imposing instead a sentence of one year in jail and one year served in the community. That sentence was struck down the following year by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Latimer's critics -- particularly advocates for those with disabilities -- said Latimer had rightfully been convicted and anything less than the minimum sentence would send society the wrong message that it was OK in certain circumstances to end a life purely because someone else decided it was not worth living.

"To me it is a greater crime to kill somebody who is fragile than to kill somebody out of anger, especially when there are medical treatments and social programs that will assist," said Dr. Tom Koch, a bioethicist for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society.

The Supreme Court noted that despite Tracy's condition, there was evidence she enjoyed music, could use a radio with a special button and would "express joy" at seeing family members.

In any future debate on euthanasia the name Robert Latimer will figure prominently. He'll be sought out for comment and held up as an example of what many fear could lie ahead if the door to "mercy killing" is ever opened.

It's one thing for people to decide to end their own lives -- quite another for those like Tracy Latimer to have that decision made for them.

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