Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tracy Latimer’s death was not assisted suicide

The following article was written by Naomi Lakritz and published in the Calgary Herald, under the title: Tracy Latimer's death was not assisted suicide.

By Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald, October 22, 2012

Tracy Latimer
You have to be pretty sharp to get into Oxford University. That’s why it’s surprising that the students who belong to the Oxford Union, which bills itself as “the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford,” don’t seem to understand the glaring difference between assisted suicide and murder.

The union, which has hosted the likes of the late Robert F. Kennedy and Mother Teresa, along with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to name a few of the stars in its roster, recently invited Robert Latimer to come to Oxford to join its debate on assisted suicide.

Latimer, of course, is the Saskatchewan farmer who is on parole from the life sentence he received for asphyxiating his disabled daughter, Tracy, back in 1993 — in fact, 19 years ago tomorrow — via exhaust fumes piped into the cab of his truck. Tracy, by the way, would be turning 32 next month, if Latimer had not put her out of his misery.

Latimer ended up not going to the debate because of a mix-up over getting a visa. Apparently, when a Canadian citizen who has a criminal record wishes to fly to Britain, it’s advisable to get a visa.

It’s just as well Latimer didn’t go. He wasn’t the appropriate candidate to participate in the debate.

Assisted Suicide
The students at Oxford need to understand some basic definitions. Assisted suicide is about a consenting adult asking for a doctor’s help to end his or her own life due to a terminal illness, such as the recent case of Gloria Taylor, a B.C. woman who had been fighting for the right to assisted suicide after she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Taylor died earlier this month of an infection caused by a perforated colon — a nasty way to go — but the B.C. Supreme Court had ruled prior to this that the ban on doctor-attended assisted suicide is illegal. The court gave Ottawa a year to draw up new legislation, but in the meantime, it awarded Taylor an exemption to the ban, so that she could die at a time of her choosing. In the end, her health took a different course.

So, Oxford students, here’s the difference between Gloria Taylor and Tracy Latimer. It is very simple: Gloria Taylor, who was in her 60s, made her wishes clearly and unequivocally known. Tracy Latimer, who was 12, did not. She couldn’t walk or talk. However, even if Tracy had wanted to die and had been able to communicate this verbally, she was only 12 years old and not of an age to consent to anything.

Robert Latimer, who is not a doctor, did not assist Tracy in her own suicide at her request. He decided on his own initiative to kill her. After contemplating and discarding methods such as a drug overdose or shooting Tracy in the head, he decided to poison her with carbon monoxide. Then, he lied to his family and said she had died in her sleep; it wasn’t until the autopsy revealed her cause of death that he finally told the truth.

That’s not assisted suicide. That’s murder.

Unfortunately, the definitions seem to have become hopelessly muddled over the years. The Latimer case is also often referred to as a mercy killing or euthanasia. However, those who advocate for the legalization of mercy killing or euthanasia are not advocating for people to be able to go out and kill those whose lives they don’t think are worth living. Any proposed legal definition always involves a request by a patient, similar to the case of Gloria Taylor, and before her, Sue Rodriguez, to be assisted in dying. It’s not about parents being given the legal right to kill their own children.

Tracy was murdered. We need to stop obfuscating about her life and death. Her case had nothing to do with assisted suicide, and if it can be called euthanasia, then it can be done so only in the crudest usage of that word. Tracy was “euthanized” in the same way a sick dog or cat is put down — its owner makes the decision that it’s time for the animal to die because he can no longer bear to see it suffering. When Latimer decided it was time for Tracy to die, he further debased her human dignity by bringing her down to the level of a family pet. Such an animal has no say in its own fate and the value of its life rests solely with the one who decides whether that life will end or carry on a while longer.

And that is why Latimer does not belong at the Oxford Union debate. The debate is about assisted suicide. Robert Latimer is a second-degree murderer — and, in the end, the Supreme Court of Canada quite rightly upheld his prison sentence for the crime of killing Tracy. The Oxford students need to find someone more qualified for their debate.

Naomi Lakritz is a Herald columnist. nlakritz@calgaryherald.com

Lakritz is correct, Tracy Latimer was killed and it had nothing to do with assisted suicide. Lakritz does make one error. Gloria Taylor was asking for the court to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. The decision by Justice Smith demanded that both assisted suicide and a form of euthanasia  be legalized.

Justice Smith acknowledged that assisted suicide and euthanasia are two birds of a feather. She decided that some people cannot die by assisted suicide which requires a person to self-administer a lethal dose (usually 100 pills). Justice Smith ruled that euthanasia (lethal injection) would also be legalized.

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