Commentary ~ Should Robert Latimer receive mercy?

by Cheryl Eckstein


"mer ' cy n. quality of compassion, clemency; a refraining from the infliction of suffering by one who has the right or power to inflict it." Webster's New Dictionary, 1994

After reading Donna Laframboise's "Have mercy on Robert Latimer " (available below) I recalled two quotes .. one from Victor Frankl's book, "Man's search for meaning" and another quote by Dr. Karl Gunning.

 Frankl said, "there are two races of men in this world, but only these two-the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society." 

Gunning opined, "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." (Dr. Karl Gunning, president of The World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life

Normally, when we hear that a father has killed his child, we think 'how impossible that is to believe ... it is too shocking.'  Indeed, how can a decent human being conceive of such a plan?  But to some, when they hear that the child was severely disabled and incapable of even being able to "control her own bowels," they begin to believe the atrocious lie that such a child is 'better off dead.' 

Such subjective thinking has led to the practice of euthanasia, and caused physicians like Dr. Karl Gunning to be lambasted for not killing their patients.

Doctors like Gunning, choose to kill the pain, not the patient.

Still, in Dr.  Gunning's country, the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal.  Doctors are allowed to lethally inject a lethal poison and terminate human life.  It is considered a compassionate act.  Of course there are rules to comply with -- such as non-voluntary euthanasia .. that - is not allowed.  However, it is practiced, and so is infanticide.

Some physicians believe that by giving a lethal injection, they are saving the patient from the infliction of suffering, and are not committing murder. So, it can be said, that Robert Latimer committed non-voluntary euthanasia.  But it is really just a battle of euphemisms ... murder is murder.  

Donna Laframboise quoted Shakespear as saying "Justice, said Shakespeare, best serves its purpose when tempered with mercy."

Much has been said about Robert Latimer's compassion.  Compassion means "to suffer with" ... most will agree, Tracy was treated with pseudo compassion.  It is true, much of Tracy's suffering was needless, but that was because Tracy's pain was not properly managed.  But rather than allow Tracy the best treatment available, her father destroyed her life.

In this case, I prefer this quote by Shakespeare:  "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul, producing holy witness, Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath! " [The Merchant of Venice (15961598) act 1, sc. 3, l. [99] William Shakespeare ]

One letter to the editor headlined Mockingbird Deaths caught my eye wherein a writer voices her outrage over the euthanasia of some birds.  She said:

Humane Society Guilty in Bird Deaths" (April 18/01) related the heartbreaking story of the killing of three baby mockingbirds. Besides the fact that these birds are protected by federal law and that the crime was committed by, of all organizations, the Humane Society, what did these little creatures do that justified killing them? What sort of technique qualifies as euthanasia when the life is barely 1 1/2 inches long? It must have been easier to kill these animals knowing that, being blind at 2 days of age, they could not look into the eyes of their killers. Shame on the Washington Humane Society, shame on the judge. (signed, MONIQUE BRYHER, Tarzana WA.) "Mockingbird Deaths -- LATimes.

 ". . . they could not look into the eyes of their killers. . . "  how familiar is that! The "salt of the earth" Latimer sat on the back wheel of his truck, with Tracy's back to him, so she could not see the killer's eyes.

 There is always some heart wrenching story about animals, and people ask, "what did these little creatures do that justified killing them?"  Please don't second guess  I am equating Tracy's death with the Mockingbird story in the sense of value of life ... I was just remembering what  Frankl said, and grieving again the death of Tracy Latimer.

Hugh Gregory Gallagher, author of By Trust Betrayed extensively quotes Nazi physician, Dr. Karl Brant, saying he "made no apology" for his part in the Aktion T-4, "and declared it to be justified -- out of pity for the victim and out of a desire to free the family and loved ones from a lifetime of needless sacrifice ...Only misguided civilization keeps such beings alive; in the normal struggle for existence Nature is more charitable."' (p257)

It comes as no surprise that Robert Latimer has never once apologized for killing his own flesh and blood.  It is doubtful that  this "salt-of-the-earth" Latimer, has ever apologized to the 15-year-old girl he raped in his home town of Wilkie in 1973. (see THE REPORT  NEWSMAGAZINE February 19).

 LaFramboise asks, "Should he serve a full decade in prison before becoming eligible for parole . . .?  Instead, should not we be asking, "Did Tracy deserve the death sentence her father carried out?" 

I say, shame on Robert Latimer for killing his daughter, and shame on those who continue to campaign to grant him early parole from the most merciful sentence he has received.  Most killers get life in prison for premeditated murder.  Robert Latimer's sentence is the only small tad of earthly justice Tracy Latimer received, for this child received absolutely no mercy from her father.

 Indeed, Robert Latimer has already received clemency.

                                                                               Cheryl Eckstein, CEO, CHN, September 29, 2001


bulletHave mercy on Robert Latimer By Donna Laframboise, National Post

Justice, said Shakespeare, best serves its purpose when tempered with mercy. According to a recent public opinion poll, 71% of Canadians believe Robert Latimer deserves such mercy. I am one of them. In 1981, Mr. Latimer's wife, Laura, gave birth to a daughter who suffered brain damage during delivery. They named her Tracy. When this salt-of-the-earth Saskatchewan farming couple learned the full extent of Tracy's mental and physical disabilities, they could have taken the easy way out. They could have done what people frequently do in these situations -- consign her to the care of medical professionals in an institution. Had they chosen that option, their lives would have been immeasurably easier. Tracy, who functioned at the level of a four-month-old, was utterly dependent. She could not -- and would never -- feed, clothe or bathe herself. She would never learn to speak, control her own bowels, ride a bicycle or read a book. A quadriplegic suffering from severe cerebral palsy, she experienced five or six seizures a day. According to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling released in January, "Tracy underwent numerous surgeries in her short lifetime" and was scheduled for yet another "to lessen her constant pain."

For 24 hours a day, over 12 long years, the Latimers loved and cared for their daughter. Holding her and soothing her, trundling her to hospitals and to specialists. During these years, says the court, Mr. Latimer displayed a "tortured anxiety about Tracy's well-being" and a "laudable perseverance as a caring and involved parent." He faced "challenges of the sort most Canadians can only imagine. His care of his daughter for many years was admirable." In other words, Mr. Latimer did everything in his power. He gave, and then he gave some more. He got up every morning and did his duty, living a life in which respite and peace of mind were distant, unattainable luxuries. Having watched my own exhausted father devotedly caring for my ailing mother in the years prior to her death, I have some small idea of how difficult it must have been for Mr. Latimer. I understand why, near the end, he and his wife applied to have Tracy admitted to a group home. I understand why they later changed their minds, apparently believing that leaving her in the hands of doctors who were advocating a feeding tube and still more painful surgeries meant abandoning her to a fate worse than death. Had Mr. Latimer been a callous individual, he would have casually relinquished care of his daughter and never looked back. Instead, while his wife and other children were away attending church, he set Tracy in the cab of his truck, ran a hose from the exhaust pipe and, sitting on a tire in the back of the truck, watched through the window as the carbon monoxide put her to sleep one last time. Did Mr. Latimer commit second-degree murder? The law says yes. Should he serve a full decade in prison before becoming eligible for parole -- the same length of time a bank robber who kills a by-stander during a heist is required to serve? The public says no. Seven out of 10 Canadians told the pollster this punishment is too harsh. If justice is not only to be done, but to be seen to be done, the federal government must grant Mr. Latimer clemency.

It must exercise its royal prerogative of mercy and set him free. The first jury that convicted Mr. Latimer was tampered with by the prosecutor, necessitating a new trial. But the second jury, after hearing all the facts, told the judge that because Mr. Latimer's case is exceptional, he should become eligible for parole after serving only one year. As even the Supreme Court has acknowledged, he poses a threat to no one. Mr. Latimer spent 12 years looking after Tracy.  In the eight years since her death, he has been subjected to two criminal trials, at great financial and emotional cost to himself and his family. Unless those with the power to act do so, his life will waste away behind bars for another 10, while his wife and children struggle on without him. Let mercy, which Shakespeare called "the gentle rain from heaven," finally light on Mr. Latimer's brow.

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