There is a wealth of information on the Internet about Cerebral Palsy.  We urge you to investigate the various sites before penning your name to any petition that asks for Robert Latimer to receive a early parole.

 

bulletSee also "My Word" - a place to write your commentary

CHN Editor

TRACY ON TRIAL

[updated Feb. 20, 2001 -with a photo of "Angie"]

A mother speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves

by Charlotte Cooper
Editorial notes by Cheryl Eckstein (CHN)

In March of 1995, the Compassionate Healthcare Network published a four-page fact sheet called "Tracy Lynn Latimer, Better Off Dead? A Breach of Compassion." (1) The article offers a summary of critical facts and statements taken from the trial court transcripts, "Queen and Robert W. Latimer," held in Saskatchewan, November 1994.  [see update of  The Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Jan. 18, 2001; URL:R]   The article describes how a child, severely disabled with cerebral palsy and suffering from a dislocated hip, was killed by her own father. He pleaded not guilty, yet did not deny that his daughter died by his direct action. He claimed what he did is not a crime of murder, but an act of mercy. Since the Latimer trial, the media has reported that many in society are not outraged in fact, they support Latimer. After all, Tracy Lynn was severely disabled, and according to her parents, suffered severe pain. So, is pain a reason to kill? And whose pain are we really talking about? Was Tracy Lynn Latimer "better off dead"?

A photograph of Tracy Latimer, graces the cover of the November 1994 issue of Maclean's magazine. The feature story was dubbed, "What Would You do?" Inside, Maclean's displays other pictures of Tracy and her family. A particularly charming photo of Tracy, is one where she is smiling innocently and contentedly into her father's somber face, while he holds her in his lap. Other than the endearing family photographs, the article rejects Tracy's humanhood, and instead, focuses on Robert Latimer's punishment for killing his disabled daughter, (life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for ten years); the "moral support" he has received from "sympathetic people across the country" and the burden Tracy's condition put on the family. One of Latimer's farm laborers quipped, "When the newborn came into the picture, they hardly had time to look at him. It was all Tracy, Tracy, Tracy." (2)

Societal attitudes toward killing children with disabilities are markedly different from societal response to the killing of healthy, so-called normal children. Professor Dick Sobsey, from the Developmental Disabilities Centre, University of Alberta, says, "about two-thirds of all murdered children are killed by their own parents. Most parents who abuse or kill their children believe that their violence is justified, often citing compassion." Sobsey says that "Children with disabilities are at least twice as likely to be victims of violence than other children" and "about 15% of all abused children are children with significant disabilities."

If the Latimer case goes to the Supreme Court, will Canadians condone the father's covert ruse of 'mercy killing', because Tracy was suffering pain from a dislocated hip, and was so severely disabled that she was dependent on her parents for her every need? Will the death toll by 'unnatural causes' rise in people with disabilities if a so-called 'mercy killing' law is created? (the Senate of Canada has recently recommended that a new offence of mercy-killing be added to the Criminal Code.) (3) Finally, what about families who love and care for people with disabilities how will they cope in a society where many regard people who are suffering or disabled, as 'better off dead' will the care-givers and physicians who refuse to practice "mercy-killing" be seen as cruel? As Dutch physician Dr. Karel Gunning once remarked:

They are brainwashed that killing is mercy and not killing is cruel, I am a cruel doctor because I do not want to kill a patient.

In light of extensive and ongoing debate about the Latimer case, we are pleased to present excerpts from the story of another family, the Coopers, who have a child severely disabled with cerebral palsy. Maclean's asks us, "What would you do?", Charlotte Cooper tells us "What They Do!". Charlotte and Lawrence Cooper, along with their four children, live in a beautiful sprawling rancher, near Edmonton, Alberta. It is a home filled with the warmth and care of human touch, where love, respect and compassion outshine and overcome adversity. Charlotte has written a book appropriately titled "Tracy on Trial." I asked Charlotte to describe in her own words, why she wrote this important book:

It is a book that contains an important message celebrating life and hope. The story is based on the Latimer murder trial in Saskatchewan, November 1994, and on the issues it raised. I attended the trial and also the appeal in Regina . . . because I have a personal interest in this situation. Our daughter Angela, is almost the same age as Tracy Latimer would now be and she fits the courtroom descriptions of the little girl who was murdered by her father.

Our motivation for writing the book is not adversarial; it does not attack the Latimers. It simply lets the Canadian public know who these children with severe cerebral palsy really are and why they need the same protection in this country as all other citizens. The book is a blend of information and inspiration. It underlines the gifts and contributions these children bring to our society, and in short, it speaks up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

It is estimated there are approximately 5,000 Canadian Children who are disabled in the same way and to the same degree as Tracy Latimer. No doubt some of those families are, like the Latimers, reaching the end of their resources. The public outcry applauding the Latimer murder has shaken the confidence of many. Our book affirms these people and attempts to restore their faith in their commitment to their children. Over the years we have personally received much help and encouragement from friends and neighbors regarding the care of our daughter. I think this book presents a fine opportunity to inspire those without disabled children to continue to reach out positively to those families who are in need of renewed perspective and hope.

The public has received a great deal of misinformation about this entire issue. It is only fair that the other side of the story is presented to the thinking people of this country. The book is written from a mother's perspective. It is not argumentative; it simply calls Canadians to return to their longstanding determination to help each other."
[Charlotte Cooper]

The family agreed that Charlotte and Angela [see updated story of Angie and her photo below] would travel by Greyhound to the trial. The trial was being held in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, the same city she and her husband exchanged wedding vows, twenty-five years ago. Throughout the first chapter of Charlotte's book, she describes various events during the trial of Robert Latimer. The following excerpts are taken from the first chapter of her soon to be published book, "Tracy on Trial";. (4)

"TRACY ON TRIAL"

by Charlotte Cooper  mailto:csc@telusplanet.net

Recalling her thoughts during the bus ride, Charlotte says:

"We boarded the Greyhound less than a minute before departure in a flurry of disassembling the wheelchair, baggage tags and carrying Angela on to the bus. We managed to find seats across from each other and amid the curious stares from other travelers, I helped her more or less lie down, using my coat for a pillow. The first thing I did was to adjust her headphones and turn on the CNIB tape machine. Her music is like the Express Card don't leave home without it!

. . . We were not making the trip to Saskatchewan for the good of our health or to satisfy curiosity. It seemed somehow that we were compelled to go, to see and hear for ourselves what had happened to this family so similar to ours. I was also going with a desperate hope and a prayer that all of my four children are still valued equally in this fair land of ours . . . The Latimer family had been on my mind now for over a year. Since the day I heard about the murder of their little daughter, I felt an incredibly deep sense of loss and grief that did not dissipate as time went on. Why should it bother me so much and why did it often bring me to tears? I didn't know these people but I found myself wishing that we had met them before. If only we could turn back the clock!

Angela called out, drawing the attention of other bus passengers. I knew the interpretation, "Mom help. My tape is over." I rearranged her on the seat as she was sliding a bit on her slippery coat and I turned over the tape. When I asked her if she was doing okay, she blinked "yes." The hours passed quickly and I repositioned her now and then, propping her up against me sometimes to give her a little back rub. It was dark when we saw the display of lights, draped crown-like over the old water tower of North Battleford. Moments later, my brother-in- law was on the bus to lift Angela from her seat and carry her to his car. Before bed that evening I asked my sister, "What do you wear to the murder trial of your daughter? This is so totally beyond the realm of even my imagination. How can they face coming to court tomorrow and how must they really feel deep inside?"

Charlotte described the events of the first day at court, which included the selection of the jury candidates. Having selected the jury, the court said, "The juror will look at the accused. The accused will look at the juror." It was then that Charlotte opened her notebook:

There was my question of last evening, "What do you wear to the murder trial of your daughter?" I penciled in the answer: blue jeans, leather belt, short sleeved white shirt.

After court was dismissed for the day, Charlotte returned to her sister's home:

Back at my sister's house, Angela and her care-giver were getting acquainted, listening to music. We had found a lovely Chinese speaking girl who was willing to come each day as needed while I attended the trial. Angela's tapes were spread out in the living room. The wheelchair half blocked the entrance, the bedroom was piled with a case of diapers, change pads, meds, bibs, Ensure, herbal tea. . . . As soon as I came through the door, I took Angela on my lap and we sat together in the big armchair. I take the liberty of giving detailed and sometimes flowery descriptions because Angela is legally blind. She puts up with that as patiently as she does most other things. I told her that I had just seen St. Thomas Chapel and that it was shining white in the sunshine. One of the best decisions of my life was made in that chapel.

Another thing happened the day this person cuddled on my lap joined our family. Over four years ago we described to a social worker our dream-girl "about nine years old, perhaps blind, cerebral palsy, wheelchair, lots of care. We'd rather carry than chase." I later congratulated her for her excellent job of playing stork for us. She replied, "You know, sometimes I think these things are planned. Something clicked in my mind that made me think of Angela that day."

Throughout the trial, Charlotte took notes. At one point she said,

I stopped taking notes. The story we had just heard was a miserable one. Line by line it spelled out a family's defeat. The talk about Kevorkian, proved they had given up. The murder itself was crude and pathetic. I couldn't help but compare all of this to another story, similar yet very different. On November 2, 1993 just nine days after Tracy Lynn was killed, I received an early morning phone call from a broken hearted father, "Stevie's losing the battle." He had come home from school on Friday with chicken pox, by Sunday afternoon he was seriously ill with fever and laboured breathing, and he was gone soon after his father's phone call to us on that Tuesday morning. He left behind a wide and empty space and many have grieved for him. He was only ten years old and it was too soon to say goodbye.

What do I think when I remember Stevie? I think of a good, brave boy who had a smile that could light up the world. I think of a "trooper." Though his stiff, unhealthy body held him prisoner, he "took his lumps like a man." It takes time to become acquainted with these people who are so far inside themselves. The process begins by taking that step of assuming there is a thinking person in there. Only then do we catch the signals sent out from within. As we look very closely, we get the child in perfect focus and at last we see him as he is in Kodak color!

For those of us who really knew Stevie, there was no doubt he was a charmer. More than once we caught him touching Angela's hand when their wheelchairs were close enough. He laughed during the Flintstones at the appropriate places; he enjoyed the swimming pool and the people around him. On good days I've seen him operate a computer program by touching a switch with his cheek. For those who didn't know him, they may have seen a boy who could not walk or talk, who had seizures, severe congestion, and a G-tube for food intake. They may have questioned his quality of life and may have even wondered if "anyone was home."

I was honoured to read the Eulogy at the funeral, while the birth and foster parents sat together facing the casket and an empty wheelchair with his green cap still attached to the headrest. This Eulogy didn't give the date of birth or details of his life but in it his mother told about the inner boy we had grown to love. Stevie had a vibrant personality. We did not imagine it for him. He was a real boy.

Lin is a friend of mine in Edmonton. Her son Shawn is also totally dependent and he has already had his share of operations. Lin told me that two of his friends have died in the past year. "It's hard enough to lose them to natural causes," she said. "I can't imagine what this trial will be like." I couldn't have imagined it either. But here we were, in the middle of it.

[. . .] I guess it was logical that my sister and I stayed up late discussing cerebral palsy. It was probably the topic in many other homes that night, too, after the CBC news about the trial. I asked if she remembered the first Christmas when Angela was new to our family and even more new to the extended family. One of the little cousins had just turned three-years-old. She looked at the newcomer lying on the couch, and asked, "Angie died?" We had to explain that Angela had been hurt when she was born.

There was lots for all of us to learn. Back then we had no answers for so many of the questions we were asked. What are her seizures like? How many does she have? How much can she see? What is cortical vision impairment? Is she getting enough to eat? How do you know if she's hungry? Why does she sleep so much? How can she possibly thread her arms and legs up like that? What is the phenobarb for? What will happen to her wrists if she keeps flattening them on her inner arm? We were green all right, but we wanted to learn. I devoured all the information I could find. I read brochures, medical books, life stories, and Readers Digest articles.

I love to visit my sister. Their home is very peaceful and we have great conversations. As we drank hot apple juice that night before bed we talked about the Latimers and whether they had enough support in their job of caring for Tracy. Sharon showed me a book by Joni Earckson Tada and the words on page 94 perhaps summed up the whole situation: "You cannot, you must not suffer alone. It matters to the point of life and death."

"I need help" is not easy for any of us to say. There are some areas in all of our lives in which we are not comfortable seeking assistance but in the case of Angela's care I have felt free right from the beginning to lean on others. I would guess this is partly because she was not born to us. Before Angela actually moved in I was already seeking advice and wanting to talk to those in similar circumstances. One of the first examples of this occurred when a doctor from the Glenreose Hospital in Edmonton came to see some of the children at her new school. He took me aside and quietly talked about realistic goals.

I want you to know that she will always be a dependent, handicapped person. She won't ever make her own living. Don't have any false hopes. She has three biggies against her. One, she's mentally retarded; two, her vision; three, the athetoid CP interferes with what she could do. All these movements are involuntary. She doesn't want to do them and it must be frustrating for her. An electric wheelchair is never an option because if she could get enough control to push a button, she couldn't see where she's going. You will always have to do the things for her that you do now. Do you understand that? I don't wish to be a pessimist and I wish to be wrong, but you need to be aware of this situation.

I asked what goals we should have and whether there would ever be a chance of speech. He said, "Keep her happy, comfortable, stimulated. Maybe she can make some choices. There is no chance at all of speech." The whole meeting was discouraging. Although Angela was new to this school, everyone there seemed to know more about her than I did. The physiotherapist pointed out that she wasn't seated far enough back in her wheelchair insert and that she had outgrown it. The occupational therapist was very concerned that she was leaning back too far when she ate and asked if I know about "aspirating."

I went home and I cried. Then, I suppose rather by accident, I stumbled on to the right thing to do. I phoned Stevie's mother. I told her everything that had been said. She understood. She'd been there lots of times herself. After a good talk, I wondered why I had cried. I had taken the appointment too seriously, too personally.

Soon after that, encouragement came unsolicited to my door. The director of a support group had heard about our new daughter and sent a note of congratulations and a big brown envelope packed with information, particularly about cerebral palsy. She included a book of stories written by families who have disabled children, "Different Hopes, Different Dreams." She had also tucked in a red handmade clown with bells sewn on it. Since then, there has been a long line of help in various forms from a variety of people. Even the beautiful home we live in came our way because of her. Many who have never met Angela have contributed needed equipment by donating to Easter Seal and other charities. Because of her needs, she allows us all the privilege of giving to her.

A few months ago our two daughters had a night out together at the "Phantom of the Opera." During intermission Angela was sitting on Sunny's lap to rest her back when a man asked, "Is she in distress?" Sunny answered, "no, she's fine; she's just having a break from her chair." He then pressed a bill into Sunny's hand. When she protested he said, "buy something special for her. You have to learn to let other people give to her, too."

Something similar happened when we holidayed in the Gulf Islands. One morning when we were fishing, I looked towards the back of the boat. Angela was in her Dad's arms, wearing a pink hooded jacket and the breeze off the water was in her face. I thought back to the first day I had seen her. "You've come a long way, Baby!" When our week was over and we prepared to leave Thetis Island, we stopped by to settle up with the man from whom we had rented a fine cabin. I'll tell you how we'll settle this," he said. He ripped up our cheque and told us to instead buy something for our little girl. There is a beautiful German made doll on her dresser named Hunter after the man who owned the cabin and helped to provide such an enriching week for Angela. She brings out the best in all of us which is one reason I am convinced that children like Tracy and Angela are so important to our society.

A couple of years ago, Angela and I traveled by rail through the Rockies. In the morning, as we neared our destination, a conductor came to our berth to explain that the train would make an extra stop for Angela. I found this hard to believe but sure enough, when they stopped the first time the other passengers got off and her wheelchair was set up on the platform. Then when the train car we were in got to just the right spot, the train stopped again and I carried her off and placed her in her chair. Even Via Rail knows how to treat a princess! An old Canadian Reader from my mother's school days includes a poem about Canada. Beside it, in pencil, a student long ago wrote the poem's theme: "The greatness of a country depends on the character of its citizens." Over and over we have experienced consideration and generosity on Angela's behalf. Perhaps that means our country is still pretty great.

Usually when we visit in Saskatchewan, we come as a family and Angela has a room to herself but this time, when we came for the trial, we slept together in the canopy bed. For me, the day had been emotional and draining. I was aware of the little person beside me as I lay awake for hours, pondering the value of human beings to one another, the details of the trial, and the possible implications for our family.

April 06, 2010 

Recently, Charlotte Cooper wrote CHN to give us an exciting update on Angie.  Angie is now 20 years old, the same age Tracy Latimer would have been, had not her father, Robert Latimer, killed Tracy.  It is with our great pleasure, to add Charlotte Cooper's letter and a photo of Angie ~ here as follows:

Dec. 1/2000 It's been a long ten years.... We had a family reunion of sorts in our living room this afternoon. Here’s how it happened to be.

On Angela’s 20th birthday last month I asked her if she wanted us to contact her birth Dad to let him know that she is healthy and happy. She blinked profusely (yes!), so we decided we would try to locate him. Then Carrie got sick and our quest was put on hold. I was able to make telephone contact with a family member a few days ago and as soon as James O’Hara [Angie's birthfather] got the message he was on the phone wanting to come…today!

It was quite a moment when he walked in, flowers in hand. “Angie, you grew up!” She was just a-smiling and so happy to see him again after all these years. He is a gentle soul like she is and he was able to fill in some of the blanks for us regarding her first years when he looked after her by himself. He told us how hard it was to finally give her up and then to visit her and take her flowers in the institutions and a couple of foster homes and then to have to leave her there alone in those dismal places.

She gave him a couple of photos as well as a cassette of her song, “Angie Flies”, and she is going to make a photo album for him for Christmas covering the years since he last saw her when she was ten. He said he had tried to find her through the institution records and even on the net but was unsuccessful.

Angie’s day program gal, Katie, stayed an hour and half after work just to be present for the big meeting. She found her dad just a few years ago so was really on board for today. I had a copy of a poem for him  that Angie and I often use for speaking engagements, called My Perfect Child,  with a picture of Angie scanned on it. He proceeded to read it aloud and by the end -- “Some call her handicapped, I call her perfect.” James was wiping his eyes and so was Katie and so was I. Only Angie was dry eyed but she couldn’t quit smiling as you can see in the photo! 

 [photo below, Angie and James O'Hara]

bulletADDITIONAL RESOURCE INFORMATION ON DISABILITY

Child abuse and cerebral palsy [Editorial]. (1983, May 21). The Lancet, p.1143. This editorial reviews the findings of a recent study that discusses a disturbing two-way relationship between child abuse and cerebral palsy. The study by Diamond and Jaudes revealed that some cerebral palsy is caused by abuse and that those with cerebral palsy are also at risk for abuse. As a result of these findings, this editorial states that more studies should be done to examine conditions that lead to abuse of cerebral palsy victims. [Dick Sobsey, et al., (1991) Disability, Sexuality, and Abuse: An Annotated Bibliography, Carey H. Brookes Publishing Co.,: 154.] NOTE: "The publication of this annotated bibliography introduces a whole arena of topics that fall under the broad description of sexual exploitation of persons with disabilities. It contains citations of articles and publications that focus on families, agencies, institutions, facilities, hospitals, and those who care for persons with disabilities. 

Quality of life and the living conditions of people with disabilities are identified. Reviews and commentaries regarding professionals and their skills, competencies, and training are available. Information about existing instructional materials for professionals and educational materials for families and persons with disabilities will not only provide valuable teaching information, but will also encourage others to create new materials and programs. Without a doubt, this collection of resources will generate an increased awareness and stimulate fresh ideas." (Id., :VII). Also, Sobsey, et al., have just published another annotated bibliography titled "Violence and Disability"; which includes 100 abstracts from the above mentioned, and an additional 1,300 entries. It is published by, "Copp, Clark, Longman." For more information phone 1 800 263-4374.

To request reprints of other articles by Sobsey, i.e.: "Disability, Discrimination and the Law," Health Law Review, (1993) Vol. 2., No. 1:6-10; "Too much stress on stress? Abuse & the family stress factor." Newsletter of the American Association on Mental Retardation, 3(1), 2,8; and "Violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities: The end of silent acceptance?";, Baltimore: Carey H. Brookes. Contact: Professor Dick Sobsey, Developmental Disabilities Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB., T6G 2G5, Tel: (403) 492-4505.  mailto:DickSobsey@UALBERTA.CA

Issues in Law & Medicine (USA)

The National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent & Disabled Inc., produce an excellent quarterly journal, called Issues in Law & Medicine, P.O. Box 1586, Terre Haute, IN., 47808-1586. This journal centers on the tough legal and medical problems facing us in medical care such as assisted suicide, euthanasia, reports from the Netherlands, elderly abuse, disability abuse, AIDS in children, and recent court decisions. This journal really is "too influential for you to ignore." Subscription rate:(U.S.) - $49 individual - $69 for institutions.  

Training Institute for Human Service Planning (USA)

Wolf Wolfensberger, (1992), The New Genocide of Handicapped and Afflicted People, Syracuse University Division of Special Education & Rehabilitation. (94 pages). This monograph examines preconditions that give impetus to death decision making for the most vulnerable; how various cultures devalue human life, by exalting "deathmaking," and presenting it as "life-enhancing" for the weakest in our society. Dr. Wolfensberger asserts that society has become detoxified to the "hard evidence" of killing human life, that has been devalued, due in part to the masterful use of euphemisms. Mercy-killing is the "progressive" choice, sanctioned by those who purport that human suffering is to be rejected and that hastening death would be liberating the person who is judged to have no quality of life. {Reviewed by C. Eckstein, CHN} [For copies, contact: Training Institute for Human Service Planning, (TIPS), 805 South Crouse Avenue, Syracuse, NY, 13244- 2280].

ENDNOTES

1. For copies of "Tracy Lynn Latimer, Better Off Dead?" A Breach of Compassion," contact CHN. A donation of $2.50, will help to cover the cost of copy, postage and handling. (Bulk orders on request)

2. "What Would You Do?", Maclean's, Nov. 28, 1994:18. Note: Tracy returned home the first week in October 1993, after being at a group home during Mrs. Latimer's final months of pregnancy, in July, August and September. Tracy's infant brother Lee, was born in September 1993. On October 12, Dr. Dzus examined Tracy, and advised Mrs. Latimer that the surgery to correct the dislocated hip that was causing her all the pain, was scheduled for November 4, 1993. Tracy was killed 12 days after her doctors' appointment. See "Tracy Lynn Latimer, Better off Dead? . . . ": at p. 2.

3. Contrary to the Senate of Canada's recommendations to create a mercy killing law, the British House of Lords, (1994), out of hand rejected euthanasia, and furthermore, rejected establishing a new offence of mercy killing, concluding that, "To distinguish between murder and "mercy killing" would be to cross the line which prohibits any intentional killing, a line which we think it essential to preserve. Nor do we believe that "mercy killing" could be adequately defined, since it would involve determining precisely what constituted a compassionate motive. For these reasons we do not recommend the creation of a new offence." [House of Lords, Report of the Select Committee on Medical Ethics, (1994) HL Paper 21-1, Vol.I p.53]

4. Permission to reprint "Tracy on Trial," granted by the author.

"Tracy on Trial" was produced by Compassionate Healthcare Network - Summer 1995 Copyright © 1995
Permission is granted to copy or quote this article as long as this notice is displayed.

 

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