Thursday, December 20, 2007

Her Heart

It was depressing reading. All I did was look up the words "Robert Latimer parole" on Google and I found hundreds of entries. One of which was a newspaper article on a website that had the capacity for people to respond. Almost every letter was in support of Latimer and the one's that were 'con' were more about family support and the needs of families who have children with severe disabilities than they were about the murder of a child.

When I was on the road in England I saw a man with a severe disability receive amazing care. The carer with him knew exactly how to position him so that the movement he did have was able to communicate meaning. He chose what he wanted for lunch. It took nearly ten minutes for the choice to be made, but he made it. Deep inside his disability, he lived, had preferences, and she knew how to call him forth - let him free. To casual observers he'd be a bunch of bones and slightly less than human - to those with eyes he was fully human.

The Latimer parole controversy hit while I was overseas and I heard none of it until I got back. An email came into my work address about a 'response' to Latimer and to the public outpouring of support for him. Then I did the search and found that the Canadian public's response - each letter claiming to know Latimer's heart, claiming to empathize with him. What fraudulent, cheap emotion! What disability loathing trash! What blatent prejudice masquarading as compassion!

When I worked in an institution, years and years ago, I met a woman with a profound disability. Few were interested in her, few attempted contact. But I was just out of university, just freshly trained in 'behavioural' approaches. I wanted the challenge of teaching someone with such a significant disability. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that chocolate had the capacity to increase IQ! Patsy learned. She was called out from the land that she lived in to make contact with the world. There was someone home in there. I've never forgotten that fact again.

I took an acting class, one Saturday on the road, during the time of the Latimer trial. It was called, appropriately, 'Acting for Amateurs'. The teacher had us BE a tree, then BE the wind that blew through the branches. Then we had to BE a rock in a brook. Now BE the water that flow over the rock. And we all did as we were told we swayed our branchs, and whoosh the water. It was fun. Then we were asked for suggestions. One woman had love for birds, so we all worked at BEING the bird. I then suggested that we all BE Tracy Latimer. There was silence and discomfort, the teacher then said, "We can BE something that's not there." Excuse me but we were just a frigging rock and we can't BE Tracy Latimer. These are the people who are writing letters - people who can feel compassion for Robert while feeling nothing but pity and loathing at the mere idea of Tracy. Forgive me but I have no difficulty in calling bigots, bigots. Hitler 'sold' the murder of the disabled as compassion, their existance as burdens ... it's a good technique ... clearly still works.

"You don't know what it's like to have a child with a significant disability." No, I don't. But I have cared for them without wishing them dead. I have spent two years in a wheelchair and seen the 'I'd rather be dead than be you' look in the eyes of two footers who fear disability above all else. I have sat in movie theatres and wished normal children dead. Please, don't tell me that if I had a kid with disability I would suddenly understand Latimer's decision to kill his child. Please don't tell me that ultimately Tracy was responsible for her own death, that it was her disability that motivated him. You don't know his heart - neither do I - I don't need to, because it's HER heart that matters.

So, I add my voice to the few that have spoken up against Latimer, against the tidal wave of prejudice that he has called forth.

Thankyou to the Parole Board who asked difficult questions and took a difficult decision.

15 comments:

Ashley's Mom said...

Here here! Here is my blog entry on the most recent parole ruling, and it includes a picture of Tracy. She was a beautiful child. And just for the record, I do know what it is like to have a child with a significant disability. I have three of them...

Tracy Latimer Blog Entry

wendy said...

I nearly got into a major fight with my mother over this one! I was visiting for an early Christmas with her while this was all in the news. She made some remark about "that poor man" not being allowed parole, etc. I snapped "He's exactly where he belongs!" She seemed shocked and went on to repeat what she'd heard about how much Tracey was suffering. I refused to engage any further on the subject. My mother is 85 and has a very distorted view regarding all things related to disability. She has no idea how I can do the work I do without crumbling into little pieces under that weight of the pity she thinks I must feel. No amount of explaining has ever changed this. Do I believe Robert Latimer is likely to murder some stranger on the bus? No. Do I think that HE believes he was acting out of mercy? Yes. Do I think he was horribly misguided? ABSOLUTELY.

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Belinda said...

You remind us of something important...that silence is assent. We need to be stirred and challenged to write when it can make a difference as you and Ashley's mom have--and speak up clearly as Wendy did.

Our politicians respond to our voices and too often when things go as they should, we forget to say thank you. As I heard on a recent documentary about a wonderful Toronto doctor who makes house calls to the elderly, "This is not another species we are talking about;this is you and me."

Penny L. Richards said...

"And just for the record, I do know what it is like to have a child with a significant disability."

Me too. And my son is fully, exuberantly, exquisitely human and present, and deserves to have each and every one of his rights respected and protected. Just like every other kid ever, anywhere. Thanks, Dave, for being one of the voices against dehumanization.

clumsy ox said...

You are absolutely right... er, except the part about wishing kids in the movie theatre dead.

Thank you for speaking out so clearly.

Anonymous said...

Check out the story on the Judge Rotenberg Education Center in MA.

From SF Chronicle today.
"Seven people have been fired over electrical shocks given to two emotionally disturbed teenagers at the direction of what turned out to be a prank caller, the operator of the group home where the incident occurred said Thursday..."
www.sfgate.com

Kei said...

Bravo Dave. I would rather die than bring harm to any of my children.
There was no mercy to that man's (strike that... coward's) actions. He murdered his own child.. in a planned, deliberate way. He did not show her mercy; he deserves none.

lisa6wks said...

Robert Latimer may have been in pain, but his actions were totally selfish. I know many parents of children with significant needs who would rather kill themselves than hurt their child.

Anonymous said...

Test

shannon said...

And RL has never admitted any guilt for the murder - anyone who can dehumanize a child
to the point where he doesn't consider her killing as murder deserves neither the sympathy nor the gift of the child in the first place.

I remember the sympathy that poured out after the Susan Smith and the Andrea Yates murders. As my heart was breaking for their babies I read comment after comment saying "poor woman, if only you knew what it was like to have postpartum depression" and "mental illness makes people do unthinkable things if they don't get help". It made me feel sick to my stomach. How can anyone condone violence against the helpless, the dependant, the innocent?

I have wished movie theatre kids muzzled....
: )

Anonymous said...

May I refer you to the written decision by the trial judge who actually heard Robert Latimer's case.

"... on the basis of the evidence presented at this trial, there is no suggestion by any witness who testified, or for that matter by Crown counsel, that he was in any way motivated by her disability. All the evidence points to his concern for the pain which he saw flowing from her illness. So on the evidence I heard, I could not conclude Mr. Latimer ever considered killing his daughter because she was disabled." "In summary, the evidence establishes he was a caring and responsible person and that he relationship with Tracy was that of a loving and protective parent." "I repeat again that, in my opinion the evidence does not in any way suggest he killed his daughter because so severely disabled."

THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA CONCURRED WITH THIS FINDING.

For your further information, Robert Latimer is the only person in recorded Canadian history to serve a even single day in prison for a mercy killing.

The sworn medical testimony, trial transcripts, and court judgments are available verbatim at robertlatimer.net I suggest that take the time to study them.

rickismom said...

I noted that 71% of Canadians feel that he deserves a lighter sentence, yet 41% are against mercy killing. We see that there are those who claim to be against mercy killing, yet who believe that he deserves a lighter sentence. Why would this be?

People live in a society where we would like to fix everything, take away all pain. People are frustrated that the "Tracy's" of the world do not get well, and they are frustrated as well by the pain of the father.
But the bottom line is that there will be no safeguards if we start judging who is expendable and who is not.

Maranatha said...

My friend who just passed away yesterday was very much like Tracy in her various abilities and disabilties. The difference?
Her Father ( Alia my friend) knew his daughter was a precious woman and treated her as such. It saddens my that while one man would do such an unspeakable act of murder while another man would give anything for one more day with his daughter even though she couldn't speak or see, she comunicated though her heart. When will people realize every life is a wonder?
Thanks Dave for being so wise!

Maranatha said...

My friend who just passed away yesterday was very much like Tracy in her various abilities and disabilties. The difference?
Her Father (of Alia my friend) knew his daughter was a precious woman and treated her as such. It saddens my that one man would do such an unspeakable act of premeditated murder while another man would give anything for one more day with his daughter even though she couldn't speak,walk or see, she comunicated though her heart. When will people realize every life is a wonder?
Thanks Dave for being so wise!