Crown Will Not Lay Charges in Death of Katie Lynn Baker

(6 December 1999) — Charges will not be laid in the death of Katie Lynn Baker, who was ten years old when she died of starvation. A coroner's inquest found Katie Lynn's death to be a homicide in May of 1997.

Katie Lynn had a disability called Rett Syndrome which made her not want to eat. Katie Lynn's mother said that her daughter had made the decision to die rather than undergo medical intervention to assist her to eat. Katie Lynn weighed only 22 pounds when she died. At the inquest social workers testified that they were confused by DNR orders and thought that they meant that nothing could be done to keep Katie Lynn alive.

Eike-Henner Kluge, bioethicist, attended the inquest and testified that children should have the "right to die" even if they do not ask to do so.

The criminal justice branch of the BC Ministry of the Attorney-General reported on 2 December 1999 that it will not be laying charges in this case. Following an investigation by the RCMP the Crown has come to the conclusion that "there is no likelihood of conviction based on the current evidence."

In an article about the Katie Lynn Baker case Professor Dick Sobsey wrote, "When you cut away all the crap, this is a simple case of a child who was starved to death by the person who was responsible for her care. So far, nothing has been done about it. " And apparently nothing will be done about it.

Making People Dead

In an article entitled "Making People Dead" (National Post, 3 December 1999) Wesley J. Smith writes, "Beneath the propaganda of compassion and the euphemisms for killing such as "aid in dying", assisted suicide is purely and simply about making people dead. Like some slow-motion suicide cult, death is the movement's overriding obsession." This orientation was evident in the first reporting that was done on the Baker case.

The following is taken from the CCD Latimer Watch (30 October 1996) and shows the viewpoints and assumptions in the media at the time of the case: "On 30 September 1996, the media began to report the case of Katie Lynn Baker, 10, who starved to death in British Columbia. ...Dr. Henry Bunn, who had had discussions with Katie Lynn's mother Cheryl, reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that, 'With this particular case the mother seemed to be of the opinion that the outlook looked so grim that there was no use carrying on.'

Cheryl, Katie Lynn's mother, told the media, 'This was our way of helping her express her own issues. The kid had been through enough. Part of a person's right to die is to choose not to be force fed. We were forcing her to eat. That's not respecting a person's right to die. My part in all of this was to support my daughter.'

Cheryl convinced social workers, who wanted to take Katie Lynn to hospital, that her daughter wanted to die...

Pejorative descriptions are avoided in writings about the killers of people with disabilities. For example, the Canadian Press describes Cheryl Baker's actions in the following manner: 'Rather than subject [Katie Lynn] to another round of painful surgery [Cheryl] took her daughter to a favorite spot, the tranquil home of family friends in the Slocan Valley. Katie weighing just 22 pounds, died there four days later of malnutrition.'"

Due to ableist attitudes about disability, media stories often fail to make some obvious points about these cases. As Cal Lambeth, a parent of a child with a disability points out, "Since when do we allow children to choose death? There is much case law in Canada where social services agencies step in to take custody of the child. This is when the child is considered at risk because the parents are refusing treatment for their child's life threatening medical condition. ..Parents do not own their children. They are not chattels or property to be disposed of at the option of their parents. There can be no doubt that bringing about the premature and planned death of one's child is completely contrary to the obligation of providing necessities for children."

It is important to note the comments made by the Crown—that "there is no likelihood of conviction based on the current evidence." We must ask ourselves why there is no likelihood of conviction. One possible answer to that question has to do with attitudes toward disability. The negative attitudes toward disability are so strong that the nondisabled observer of disability often wrongly reaches the conclusion that death would be a better option than living with a disability. This attitude manifests itself in every day interchanges between nondisabled people. For example, when a nondisabled person learns of an injury to another that results in quadriplegia, a frequently made comment is, "If that happened to me I would kill myself." These negative biases about disability, lead some people to judge the killers of people with disabilities differently than they would the killers of nondisabled people. These attitudes could lead a jury to refuse to convict a killer of a disabled person, regardless of the evidence and the demands of the law. A Crown would seek to avoid jury nullification because it puts the law in disrepute.

Catherine Frazee states, "The nondisabled most guilty of a colossal failure of the imagination. People you know often say to a disabled person, 'I can't imagine how you cope'. The inability to imagine what the disability experience is all about is translated into a kind of collective mythology that a person with disability lives a tragic life, marked by deprivation and suffering. This is simply not so and we have a responsibility to communicate that more and more daringly. We have to find more and more creative ways to express the positive powerful features of the disability experience and then to communicate these in every way possible."

It is interesting to note that the BC announcement came the day before the International Day of Disabled Persons. This International Day, like the Year and the Decade, was put in place to emphasize disability rights—rights which are still in jeopardy.