I wondered why I was hearing Robert Latimer’s name recently. It turns out that on Friday there will be vigils around the United States, in cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston, Tampa, Fla., Fort Worth, Texas and Portland, Ore., for people with disabilities who have been killed by their caregivers. But it’s been the profile of Annette Corriveau on “16 x 9”, a program run on Canada’s Global Television Network, that’s put Latimer (and the question of “mercy killing” for people with severe disabilities) in the spotlight in Canada again.
Content Warning: Parent killing disabled child, parent fighting for right to kill disabled children, institutionalization, ableism
Image Desciption: Large yellow happy face icon, with a lopsided frown and furrowed eyebrows.
For those that don’t know Robert Latimer, he was convicted of second degree murder when he put his daughter, Tracy, in the cab of his pick-up and killed her using carbon monoxide. Tracy was twelve years old and had severe physical and intellectual disabilities due to cerebral palsy. Robert, convinced that she was in unendurable pain, said that he didn’t want her to have to deal with it anymore. Normally a second degree murder conviction carries a life sentence in Canada, but he was released from prison with life on parole in seven years.
Annette Corriveau, according to “16 x 9”, is very much where Latimer was when he made the decision to kill Tracy. She wants to right to kill her two adult children, Jeffrey and Janet, both living with severe disabilities due to San Filippo syndrome and institutionalized for most of their lives. She made the decision that this is what she wanted to do when it became necessary to feed them via feeding tube so that they won’t choke. She doesn’t believe that they would choose to live like this, so she would like the legal right to end their lives.
Annette Corriveau and Robert Latimer Got to Speak…
I get that it’s very difficult to watch your child’s health and abilities keep deteriorating, especially when they’re in pain. Tracy was having seizures that routinely disconnected her hip. It had to have been terrible.
And I know that there’s little support in every way in Canada for caregivers of people with disabilities. There’s very little respite money or opportunities available. Supports are being cut back everywhere. The struggles are difficult to talk about. It’s a tough, often thankless job.
Additionally, for parents who are looking after children with severe disabilities, there’s always that mourning for the dreams that they had for the child. That’s why I’ve always liked “Welcome to Holland”, a story with which I’m sure many of you are familiar.
I recognize that this sort of parenting is very difficult, and empathize with the parents. However…
Who Speaks for Jeffrey, Janet and Tracy?
The “16 x 9” profile was, as anti-euthanasia activist Alex Schadenberg said, “disturbingly one-sided” . It was riddled with ableist language and assumptions. The staff that work with Jeffrey and Janet on a daily basis, that would be able to testify to the ways in which they communicate, were not interviewed. The reporter did not challenge Annette Corriveau at all on her conviction that her children do not want to live the way they are (just because she felt that she would not choose to live if she was living that way), or ask if she’s worked with the facility in which they live to take steps to make their lives more “bearable”.
For example, it was brought up several times that Janet has not left the facility in over 20 years, but the reporter never asked Annette Corriveau if she’d worked with the facility to try and arrange some trips out into the community.
The documentary obviously took the stance that what had happened to Jeffrey and Janet was horrible and that no one could blame Annette Corriveau for thinking the way she was, like she was the victim of some cosmic tragedy that no parent should have to endure…and therefore jusified in stopping her pain in whatever way she could. After all, as the reporter pointed out, more than half of Canada and most of the jury actually supported Latimer’s actions while the trial was going on.
I find all of this profoundly disturbing.
Reporter: “Is any of this about you?”
Listening to the interview with Annette Corriveau, and the interview with Latimer that was included in the segment, I had no doubt that these parents love their children. But I don’t buy that Latimer killed Tracy (at least solely) to ease her pain, or that Annette Corriveau wants to kill her children out of concern that they wouldn’t want to live that way. I think it’s more about parents that can’t stand dealing with the pain that their childrens’ “suffering” causes *them*. And when you don’t know how much someone is actually suffering, or what they’d like done about it (in Tracy’s case, at her age, no responsible clinician one would even have thought of asking her “Do you want to die?” if she’d not had an intellectual disability)…it’s just plain wrong.
Ask, don’t assume.
All people deserve the dignity of making their own life choices. No matter how *you* feel about what living their life must be like.
I can only be empathetic with the Robert Latimers and Annette Corriveaus to a point, and frankly I’m glad for it.
The whole “16 x 9” segment is available for viewing here
See the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ response to the program