Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Recently I read that Robert Latimer is finally being released after being convicted of murder for the 1993 mercy killing of his severely disabled daughter. For those of you unfamiliar with the case I’m talking about, here’s a bastardized summary: Robert Latimer, a canola and wheat farmer, was the father of a quadriplegic and severely mentally stunted daughter named Tracy. Every moment of this girl’s life would have been pain, and there would be no light at the end of this tunnel. In 1993, Latimer used carbon monoxide to end her life. He was convicted of murder, and during his trial, and throughout his entire prison term, he maintained that he did this to end her pain, and was motivated by love, and nothing else. Those of you who want to read more can do so on Wikipedia.

Personally, I think he should have just shut the hell up about being justified, not because of controversy, but because it would have gotten him out of prison faster. The parole boards want to hear that you feel remorse and that you’ve been rehabilitated. They do not want to hear about how you excuse your actions. I agree with his reasons, but I don’t think it’s worth it to keep yourself incarcerated, trying to prove the system wrong. Wait until you’re out, and then speak your peace.

Both my parents are lawyers, and while that doesn’t make me an expert on law, it does give me a quick window into it, complete with two jolly green law giants to give me a tour, and it wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about the Latimer case. For a long time I was torn up about which way I felt about it, but I had concluded that the law was the law, and that regardless of whether it was “morally” right or wrong in this particular case was perhaps not as important as maintaining the law itself. If you let just one person justify the willful killing of another person, then you set a very dangerous precedent.

A few months ago, I was dining with a group of lawyer friends, and one of them brought up a fact that completely changed my mind. I was reminded of this yesterday when I watched 12 Angry Men.

No matter what the law says, it is a jury’s right to give a verdict of not guilty. Even if all the facts are in, complete with a confession by the accused, the jurors can still concluded that the defendant is not guilty if they feel what he did was not an evil act. In law, there are a few clever provisions such as this for judges and jury alike that allow for them to throw out aspects of the law if they achieve an absurd result. For example, in some states adultery can be penalized with a ten year prison term. Now, while I don’t approve of cheating on your spouse, ten years is the sort of sentence you give to bank robbers, and other mid-level psychopaths. Falling in love with another person is hardly the worst thing in the world.

Here’s the catch. A lawyer is technically not allowed to instruct the jury that they don’t have to convict. I don’t know why this is so. It makes no sense to me. I would think a jury should be advised of all of there rights. Of course, that might wind up being a book, but there must be some middle ground. I mean, I think this particular detail is pretty important, and if you were to give a jury a list of just ten things they need to know, nay five, this would be on it.

Many people seem to think of the justice system as a means of punishing criminals. I think that sort of a savage and selfish approach to it. I don’t think it’s about vengeance or retribution. It is about public safety. You ask the question: Is this person a danger to society? And if he isn’t, you lock him up until he’s no longer a threat, hence rehabilitating him.

So, what are the chances Latimer will be a threat upon his release? Well, let me put it this way, how many other severely mentally disabled daughters does he have? Morality aside, the chances of recidivism are nil to none.

But morally speaking, I’m a little tired of the dogma surrounding the idea that all life is sacred. Some people’s lives are clearly not, (to themselves, anyway), and keeping them alive is not an act of kindness; it is an act of cruelty. Allowing them to die, that is an act of mercy. And I know it can be very difficult for people, because we tend to want to hold on to our relatives way beyond their expiry dates. I’d like to think when I’m terminally ill, and vomiting up everything I try to eat, that someone will have the decency to give me a morphine overdose or something, so that I can just slip away in a nice dream.

Well, that’s my rant for the day. I don’t really have a conclusion, because for this issue, there really isn’t one. It is one of those things that will be the point of human contention for a very long time. I will say that I approve of the release of Bob Latimer, and frankly think it’s about friggin’ time. It’s absurd to put men like that in prison. It’s certainly doesn’t make the world a better place.

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