Afraid for Our Lives

by Elizabeth Derouin

(30 October 1997) — Two weeks ago, I read a couple of articles in the CCD Latimer Watch that made me ill. The articles were based on euthanasia. One of the victims was Tracy Latimer...and the other was Katie Lynn Baker who had been starved to death.

...Euthanasia is growing to a point where it is only a question of time where society will be making life and death decisions for people with disabilities as a whole, and determining their worth to the human race. No one is entitled to play the role of God, if there is one.

I am deeply appalled at the justice system as well. Robert Latimer (so far) has gotten away with murder by killing his daughter with Cerebral Palsy. He has served a lesser sentence than Susan Smith who was sentenced to life for killing her two able bodied children.

Many who are among the disability movement are shocked and surprised by this case. Many are afraid for their lives. They believe that society is dehumanizing the value and quality of humanity by not reacting with equality to the murder of Tracy Latimer.

Individuals who need attendant care on a daily basis are especially vulnerable. Imagine yourself for a minute, you are in a nursing home where your children can't care for you or your illness. This same illness has left you unable to communicate your desires. Not such a pretty picture when the tables are turned.

The reason I have chosen to write this article is because this case is to the dismay of one culture within one society. For the past year, I have worked in the area of activism for students with disabilities as the co-ordinator for the Carleton Disability Awareness Centre. I am in a sociology program at Carleton University and I am a person with a disability.

My childhood was spent in foster care where they almost starved me to death by feeding me raw egg and honey in a bottle. In addition, they left me in my soil for days. I am an individual who uses attendant care on a daily basis. I am a woman with physical and communication disabilities. I have to converse with society by using augmentative and alternative communication devices and I am a wheelchair user. They are just tools. That's all. I don't feel any different than my colleagues and classmates.

I feel that all children are valuable and deserve their distinct place in society.

Latimer's unspeakable act is a criminal outrage that should be treated as such. This is not a question of who is entitled to be human among humanity.

Yes, Tracy Latimer was a person who had physical and mental disabilities. She was murdered and there is no justice met for Robert Latimer. Society cheers only for the most able.

I will leave you with food for thought. I never had the opportunities that other children had but fortunately I had other people who loved me besides those charged with the responsibility for my care. If I had Robert Latimer for a parent ..........?

(Elizabeth Derouin, Carleton Disability Awareness Centre, 4th Level Unicentre, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa ON, K1S 5B6)

Challenging Neo-Conservatism

Thanks for the good, clear message from Eric Norman. We need all the clarity we can get to address these issues.

I would add to the answer about empathizing with pro-Latimer feelings: It was obviously not easy for Robert Latimer to murder Tracy. Family members who are feeling overburdened and isolated need more public and communal support so they will not be in this situation. At the same time as we put effort into saying NO! to sanctioning euthanasia and assisted suicide, we must do the harder job, in this mean-spirited neo-conservative time, of calling for vastly increased public support of people with disabilities and their families, individualized programs of respite care.

The issues seem to get more complicated daily, with Burnaby philanthropist Natverlal Thakore having to go to the US for what appears to be a self-determined suicide, and Terry Driver using a disability defense (Tourette's) for murdering young women. Latimer begins to look easy! The man did kill a child who did not, could not ask to be killed. The arguments in his defense unmask people's enormous fears and misconceptions about living with disability, which they project onto Tracy, thus justifying her murder—Bonnie Klein

An Ally Speaks Out

I have been involved in the Latimer case, since the first court day. At first, it didn't make much news nationally, but as time went on, the papers realized they had a story. I have the court transcripts and am appalled at the misinformation that continues to circulate regarding Tracy, her pain, and her needs. When J. Bayda told the court that Robert Latimer was "the salt of the earth", I wasn't sure if I would ever recover from the shock of hearing that. Justice Bayda, if you recall, was the same judge who acquitted Robert when he was in his early twenties, of rape charges. There was no question he had raped the girl, the problem had to do with some misrepresentation of evidence. Ironically, once again Robert seems to have gotten off on a technicality.

Through the Latimer case, I came to know a most marvelous foster mother of another girl just a year older than Tracy, who also has cerebral palsy. I learned a lot from Charlotte Cooper about cerebral palsy. I also read about a most incredible young man with cerebral palsy, Teague Johnson, who wrote an opinion piece regarding Tracy. In it, Teague says, "My body is not my enemy" and he tells you why. Unfortunately, Teague died, but his words survive. Anyone who has ever read his article, will agree, that if you read his article, his words live in your heart.

A few of my articles on Tracy have been published. The latest, "One of our children is dead" was published in "Abilities magazine" which is on the Internet. A couple of other articles can be seen at our web site.

Cheryl Eckstein
Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN) (