Friday, November 03, 2017

What Does Mercy Look Like?

Image result for robert latimer

It's hard to believe that nearly a quarter century has passed since Robert Latimer made the decision to end the life of his severely disabled 12-year-old daughter, Tracey. The Latimer family lived on a rural Saskatchewan farm where it was next to impossible to receive the support their child needed and deserved. Tracey could not speak or walk and wore diapers. Robert contended that Tracey was in almost constant severe pain and that her death was merciful rather than murder.

This was a shocking circumstance for many Canadians and divisive. Some agreed that this was an extreme but loving act by a parent who wanted to end a child's misery. Others felt that is was the murder of an innocent and vulnerable child. Even though their physician and others testified that Tracey was well cared for by her parents Latimer was convicted of second degree murder and served ten years in jail, separated from his wife and three other children.

Near the anniversary of Tracey's death this year the National Post interviewed Latimer who stands by his actions, despite the price he paid:

While he is broadly contemptuous of the justice system, Latimer seems little interested in his status as a polarizing figure: a martyr for those convinced that a life filled with pain is not worth living, and the manifestation of many disabled rights activists’ worst fears.

Latimer’s continued focus on his daughter is the motivation behind his letter-writing campaign, a years-long demand for more information about what the Supreme Court called in its decision a “more effective pain medication” that would have improved her quality of life.
The court contended that the Latimer family could have relied on a feeding tube and the medication, which it does not name, but he believes that was never an option because stronger drugs would have further compromised her “already challenged” ability to breathe independently.
“I mean, it’s a convenient element of their attack on us. They say that there were options and I want to know what they were,” he said, adding that modern medicine has only become better at keeping people alive simply so they can experience more pain.

It seems to me that the Latimer family were part of a United Church at the time of Tracey's death and they received support within the congregation and the broader church. In 2002 Saskatchewan Conference of the UCC sought clemency for Latimer, even though this was a contentious issue.
July/August 2002 United Church Observer Delegates Back Latimer Clemency
by Deana Driver

Praying to a God of Justice, compassion and mercy, while concerned about the rights of the disabled, delegates to Saskatchewan Conference's annual meeting this spring in Swift Current approved a resolution asking the government of Canada to grant executive clemency to Robert Latimer. It also urges "General Council, through the Moderator and whatever other means it deems appropriate be proactive in this instance."...

...Robson said Laura Latimer reacted with gratitude and told her husband about the resolution later that evening by telephone. "He was really, really moved," Laura Latimer said. She added that she hadn't been aware the resolution was coming.

I know there had been discussions about it the year before but there was no motion made last year. I never dreamed it would be on the table again this year. It just helps to know that you're not walking alone. It helps to know that there are others with you. There have been lots of prayers said on our behalf. It still gives a person hope even though nothing in the justice system seems to give you hope."

Do you remember this story? Can you recall how you felt then? Has your mind changed and this and other circumstances? How do we balance the protection of the vulnerable and acting with mercy for those who suffer? I wish I had ready answers.


Judy said...

I remember the story well and remember feeling confused and conflicted about Lattimer's decision and actions. I might have been more able to accept his choice if he had tried more intervention first. (I cannot imagine making the choice to end my child's life, but if I had lived daily with that situation, I might feel and act differently very quickly.... with great grief and soulful agony!)

David Mundy said...

Sadly, the Latimers had arrived at the point of despair, watching their child suffer with woefully inadequate services provided in their rural setting. From what I remember and what I've read recently he genuinely felt that ending Tracey's life was a greater mercy than watching her painful decline. I agree with your final observation Judy.