What will survive of us is love

(Unfortunately sometimes that almost-instinct is proven to be untrue. Here’s a link if you don’t know what I’m referencing :))

March 6, 2012 – Woman shoots her 22 year old son and then herself.

October 24, 1993 – Man puts his 13 year-old daughter into his truck and connects a hose to his exhaust pipe. She dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. He spends 7 years in prison.

June 30, 2009 – Three sisters are found with their step-mother in a car submerged in a canal. Their father, mother and brother are all convicted of first degree murder without possibility of parole for 25 years.

Three quotes about each case:

“She was just tired, tired and very lonely. She said she just couldn’t do it anymore — take care of him.” Neighbour of the mother and son

“He killed her. His act was an act of killing, but his motive was mercy.” Arthur Schafer, Medical Ethicist

“justice for the 4 women … has finally come- Canada will NOT stand for this type of disgusting, heartless behavior” Reaction to verdict on twitter

In determining whether a homicide has been committed the law as I understand it, in both Canada and the United States, assesses whether you are culpable and if you are, then when you have caused the death of another human being you have committed homicide. You are judged according to the acts you undertook, not the motives behind them. In determining whether homicide is murder, intent then becomes relevant. In all three of the above cases, parents intended to cause the death of their children – all three, if they were culpable, therefore committed murder.

The reactions to those three killings however were all very different (at least when viewed through the lens of the media). In the case of Elizabeth Hodgins, who killed her son George and then herself, you can see from the article I linked to above an overwhelming sense of sympathy expressed for her situation, because her son was autistic. With respect to Robert Latimer, who killed his daughter Tracy, his actions at the time were viewed by the majority of Canadians as compassionate; Tracy had cerebral palsy and was often in a lot of pain. The Shafia women were victims of domestic violence; the daughters flouted the cultural mores of their parents – the universal reaction to their murder was one of horror.

Very different motives, very different family dynamics, extremely different parents and children, but ultimately the same act occurred – filicide. Our reactions to the perpetrators differ dramatically because we examine and try to understand their motives. There’s been a lot of discussion within the autism community about the reaction to George Hodgins’ murder. My personal view regarding many comments I have read is that some people are mixing up two fundamentally different concepts – understanding and justification.

As parents of special needs children we can (if we choose to) understand how Elizabeth Hodgins and Robert Latimer felt. In the case of Elizabeth, which of us isn’t tired, or fearful when it comes to our children’s future? Are there any of us who believe that our communities are successful in providing sufficient support for our families? With respect to Robert Latimer, what effect would it have on our psyche to see a beloved daughter in unrelenting pain? What parent wouldn’t be prepared to do anything they could to make that pain stop?

Understanding how these individuals felt however does not make their choices understandable. The situation they found themselves in was awful but it is neither justification nor an excuse for what they then decided to do. Faced with difficult choices they made the wrong one – they decided to kill their child. In Elizabeth’s case we can’t determine if she was culpable because she also ended her own life but regardless, she made a choice for herself AND her son – George was robbed of his basic right to life. In Robert Latimer’s case he clearly was culpable – he openly admitted to killing Tracy but has always denied that it was a crime. I profoundly disagree. Tracy’s doctors failed her by not adequately controlling her pain but her life was not an unrelenting tragedy and it was ended without her consent. Yes she was non-verbal, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t communicate and even if she could express a wish to die – she was a minor. Her father had a responsibility to protect her, not extinguish her life.

I have been invited by a friend to attend a vigil in Texas, one of many taking place tomorrow, March 30th, to mourn and remember disabled people killed by their parents and caregivers. I will be attending the vigil virtually once my children are in bed. I hope you’ll join me and in particular, remember George and Tracy.

“There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.”  Dwight Eisenhower

“”A person’s a person, no matter how small.”” Dr. Seuss

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3 Comments on “What will survive of us is love”

  1. Gingerheaddad March 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I was so pleased to see a message telling me that you published a new post. I was not prepared for the topic and maybe reading it in the middle of the workday wasn’t the wisest idea, but you had my attention right away with the connection to the Shafia murders.

    When I first heard of George’s murder (from you, incidentally) I immediately thought of the Latimer case. I have always been angered by his selfishness and his belief that he was doing what was best for his daughter. I believe he was doing what was best for himself. It doesn’t matter that people understand the reasons for the situation confronting Latimer or George’s mom–or even Shafia–if the crimes are horrible and unjustifiable. I agree that people are confusing understanding and justification. I cannot imagine, though, how understanding that Mrs. Hodgins was tired would lead anyone to suggest that they can understand that killing a child is any kind of a rational, selfless act.

    • OMum22 March 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      Thank you Jim for your comment and for sharing my post. Maybe not in Elizabeth Hodgins’ case but certainly in Latimer’s, there seems to be an idea that his action was rooted in compassion for his daughter. I’m absolutely positive that he loved Tracy but I don’t see how killing her is evidence of compassion on his part. I’m struck by the irony that oxygen deprivation caused her cerebral palsy and so her father ended her life the way it began, with suffocation. She didn’t choose to be born and she didn’t choose to die; her life was bereft of agency and I find that truly heartbreaking.

  2. Teriann Morgan April 1, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    A tragedy that you had to write this post at all,but as always your compassion and ability to look at things objectively shines through. I too have had days when it all seems too hard but have never, ever thought the answer was to 1. end my children’s lives or 2.take my own.
    Maybe this is due to the support network I am lucky enough to have in place. My family,friends – especially those who live the reality of life with children on the spectrum, an amazing school and a team of professionals I can trust and rely on.
    I wonder if these crimes against the disabled children (and I truly feel they are crimes) are not just crimes of the parents but also of a Society unwilling,or unable to ensure ALL families of children with disabilities are afforded that same support that keeps me from reaching the depths that these parents obviously did?

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