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posted by alias McNeney on Tuesday 11th of December 2007 03:38:51 PM

I can't stop thinking about Robert Latimer, who's serving time in prison just a few miles away from me. Canadian readers will recognize his name right away. For those who don't, Latimer is a farmer from Saskatchewan who, 14 years ago, killed his daughter. Tracy had been born with severe brain damage and had (according to doctors) the mental capacity of an infant. She was also quadriplegic, had a terribly twisted spine and was wracked by almost constant bouts of vomiting and seizures. She could not eat, walk, speak or even communicate, although... apparently, she did seem to register some respite from her awful pain when her father rocked her in his arms. Tracy's life was marked by many surgeries, each designed to help alleviate her pain. She had metal rods implanted in her back. Etc. etc. And... for 12 years... her family did everything for her. Fed her, bathed her, cleaned her, tended to her nearly endless medical needs... made her the centre of their universe. But could not escape the fact that she was... by their own reckoning, as well as that of medical experts... suffering horribly, with absolutely no kind of "cure" or relief in sight. In fact, as the family and her doctors were well aware, Tracy's condition was degenerative. The longer she lived, the worse it would get, and the more pain she would have to experience. Robert Latimer said the family could not bear to sustain Tracy's suffering any more, after 12 years. One day, he wrapped her in blankets, placed her in the cab of his truck and then filled it with carbon monoxide. He never denied killing his daughter. By all accounts, it was a family decision. Tracy was in so much pain that she could not sleep. Her skin was breaking down. She was losing more and more weight. And facing yet another surgery - one that would have involved the removal of a large chunk of one of her legs. At trial, the surgeon testified that the operation would have been excruciatingly painful... and that the pain would have been long term. On top of that, as her body continued to deteriorate, she would face more surgeries... each of which would only prolong her pain. So Robert Latimer did what he felt was the right thing. He never denied it. But he also never said he regretted it. Sentenced to life in prison, he was last week given the chance (after serving seven years) to apply for day parole. The National Parole Board turned him down. Why? Because... in their esteemed opinion... he poses "an undue risk to society." They also made clear that they might have ruled differently... had Latimer renounced his actions. But he stands by what he did. And so he stays in prison. In denying his application, one of the parole board members said (as have many of Latimer's opponents) that ending Tracy's life "was not his decision to make." That it was "not his place" to judge the quality (or lack thereof) of Tracy's life. Which raises the question. If not her parents, her family, the people who were with her, and cared for her, 24/7.... if it's not their place, then whose place is it to decide such a thing for someone who cannot speak for herself? No, we can't leave it up to parents on their own. But... c'mon. At a time in our society when the dominant trend is aging... when technologies exist to extend lives with questionable results... is it not time we looked at having some kind of mechanism to fairly and humanely deal with such cases? Why could we not have some esteemed panel, resident perhaps in our health authorities, with the expertise and compassion and open-mindedness to consider such cases and render decisions through an instrument not so blunt as criminal law? Why could a family like the Latimers not have some options? What right does "society" have to force a person with severe disabilities to keep undergoing surgery after surgery, knowing there is no hope of relief, let alone recovery? I am not advocating the blanket right of parents to mercy-kill their children, or husbands their wives, or any such thing. But I do think it's time we faced this reality and offered people in this horrific situation more than just the options of live with it or spend the rest of your life in prison.

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