A Downward Spiral: Allan Simpson Speaks Out

[20 October 1997]

Why are you working with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities on the Latimer Case?

The long term legal implications and the court of public opinion to the Latimer case represents to me one of the most significant issues in Canadian society today; namely the fundamental right of people with disabilities to the same protection of life as any other citizen. The public and political reaction to the Latimer murder falsely endorses the image of people with disabilities as suffering and this creates an attitude that a person with disabilities is not really a protected citizen and parents know what is the best for those who are suffering. This has tremendous implications for every social program and our every right under Canada's legal system. This is why the case must be addressed firmly and effectively. I am concerned that this is just the beginning of a downward spiral of death making. We will see a narrowing of social attitudes which reduces the value of people to one of economic measurements. We all have a duty to challenge these deep seated attitudes and prejudices and to reaffirm the value of all citizens to live, to have choices, and to make their own decisions. We must never allow the principle that parents can decide to end the life of any of their children no matter what the circumstances. We as a society can never allow that principle.

The MLPD is planning a memorial for Tracy. What is its significance?

When we examine the life of Tracy we see that she went to school, enjoyed music, friends and camp fires. She encountered the same pain, the same needs for surgery as may others have. When we see that life snuffed out through a confessed murder and the way that was done, it is critical that we reaffirm her life and the inspiration that she has become for all of us. In her death she has helped us to rekindle the meaning of life, family and citizenship responsibility to protect the fundamental right to life. Tracy has helped us to draw our own line in the sand that says beyond this point we will not accept any further erosion of our liberties and our security. We must mark it very clearly, we will not tolerate our society endorsing the murder of disabled children or adults.

What advice would you give the Crown in the Latimer Case?

The Crown has a tremendous responsibility to clearly articulate the essence of a citizen that should be protected and seen as a whole human being, without the misleading trappings of pain, and suffering. You have to see the whole person as a human being and start with a definition that does not in any way establish the beginning of an assessment tool, that says at this degree of pain it is okay to murder and at this other degree of pain it is not okay to murder. The Crown must stand up and object whenever the picture is painted by the defense that these were understandable circumstances, that the family was under stress. This is irrelevant to the issue of murder. The Crown cannot allow the painting of a picture that Tracy was not a full human being because she was possibly in pain. The principle that she was a full citizen with all the protections of the law, that is the first and only issue that must be re-affirmed and enshrined. The defense must see that Tracy like all people with disabilities is deserving of full protection of the law and the court system.

What impact will the quality of life argument have on people with disabilities?

The quality of life argument built around Tracy Latimer and others with severe disabilities is a trap. The essence of the law in this country is that the individual has the right to life, liberty and full citizenship. Only the state has the power to execute. The state has never delegated this power to families. It has never delegated the power to execute. Mr. Latimer must encounter the legal system, because of his very determination that he has the right to murder. He has continually claimed that he had the right to kill Tracy and by implication he would have the right as a parent to kill another daughter or son whenever he deemed this person was in pain. The quality of life argument must never be allowed because it denies fundamental freedoms and respect of the citizen.

How do you assess the media coverage?

The media have constantly flipped between the emotionalism and the rhetoric of defining Tracy as this poor soul with pain, they seldom defined Mr. Latimer as convicted of murder. The terms they use for him are softer, almost as if Mr. Latimer put down his dog because it was in pain. Not until the disability action groups challenged the media about their understanding and their language, has there been some improvement. The media has fallen for the sympathy of Mr. Latimer approach. A mother who murdered her children in the States was vilified by the same media. Those children did not have a disability. It shocks me that the media for the most part have not had the capacity or depth to measure the difference in their attitudes between murdering a child with a disability and murdering a child without a disability. It is indeed dangerous that the media has abandoned their responsibilities.

How do you respond to ethicists and academics who argue for a lesser sentence for Robert Latimer?

The position presented by the ethicists is the second great danger in this case. It is indeed shocking to see how ethicists are confusing the Latimer murder with right to die issues, such as those presented by Kevorkian. The danger is enormous. I'm shocked now to learn these ethicists are involved in hospital panels that give the endorsement to doctors to withdraw services and to assist in the deaths of individuals under their care. So what I sense, I could be corrected in this, is that the ethicists who are arguing for compassion and a lesser sentence for Latimer are searching for clearance of their own responsibility and their own conscience so that they can continue this very practice of, shall I say, putting down those they deem as severely disabled and without quality life. Of course, they give us extreme examples—people who are in their last hours of life with cancer. They compare those situations with those that we encounter with, people with extensive disabilities, perhaps with pneumonia or other kinds of conditions that can be corrected. Then it is concluded that it is also all right to withdraw services from those people—deny them a ventilator, deny them other services. To see ethicists who should be defending ethics being co-opted into review panels and methodologies to approve the denial of services or life itself by panels and doctors, is basically setting up a whole execution industry.

Would you like to add anything?

Quite simply, the Latimer retrial is a watershed for the next decade as to the very life, liberty, and entitlements of all people with future disabilities. If execution by parents become acceptable, it could create a whole new decade of withdrawals of services, a fundamental change in social policy in Canada. It will spread like a plague, because we will all become guilty of being co-executioners. Once that happens in Canada we will no longer have the respect for all individuals that this country was founded upon. We will simply be another ethnic cleansing country looking for ways and means of reducing its population of expensive people.

Biographical Note

Allan Simpson is a past CCD Chairperson.