Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 29, 2001
Latimer's lack of remorse
Some who are sympathetic to the view that convicted child-killer Robert Latimer should serve less than the minimum sentence for his crime argue that he is unlikely to re-offend. This is probably true. Latimer has no more handicapped children in his household and there is no evidence that he is likely to be violent in other situations.
A similar argument, however, could be made in the case of many murderers - the murder was a crime that occurred in a stressful situation that is unlikely to repeat itself.
Still, a lengthy prison sentence is imposed because the state hopes the convict will admit to the evil he has done and enter a period of self-reform which roots out the source of the crime in the person's heart. Second, the sentence serves as a deterrent to others who might perform similar actions.
Further, there is a need for retribution. This retribution is not revenge, which seeks to repay evil with evil. The essence of a crime, rather, is that the criminal has seized more than his fair share of liberty to do as he pleases. Thus, in order to restore a balance, it is right that the criminal be deprived of some of the liberty to do as he pleases, which law-abiding citizens enjoy.
In the case of Latimer, what is perhaps most disturbing is that he has committed a heinous crime, says he has done nothing wrong and does not believe he deserves punishment. "Thinking people who actually had an understanding of the situation would not participate in this conviction," he said, after the seven Supreme Court justices had unanimously and unequivocally upheld his conviction for second-degree murder.
As Christians, we ought to pray for Latimer. Seven and a half years after he murdered his daughter, he still believes he did the right thing. The Church traditionally lists impenitence, obduracy in sin, presumption, despair, rejection of the known truth and envy of the grace others enjoy as sins against the Holy Spirit.
Leading moral theologian Germain Grisez notes, "There is in these a certain dynamism and progression, by which sinners become increasingly unlikely to seek forgiveness" (Christian Moral Principles, p. 442).
It is a downhill slide of self-justification, bitterness, withdrawal from others who would challenge their behaviour and finally belief that there is no right and wrong. It is a path one sees not only in convicted criminals but also in ordinary people whose lives exude a superficial righteousness. One cannot judge with certainty who is on this downhill road to hell, but one can observe the pattern and strive to avoid it in one's own life. It is so easy to tell oneself a small lie about one's own actions and to allow that small lie to grow into a larger and larger one.
The major societal issue raised by the Latimer case was euthanasia. But this was not likely to have been a case that would have legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide. Tracy Latimer was not dying and had not asked to be put to death. Her father took the law into his own hands and killed her. The Supreme Court found no real alternative to upholding the lower court ruling that Robert Latimer should serve at least 10 years in jail.
The Latimer case is not the final word on the issue of "mercy killing." Parliament might well in the future introduce a law that allows in supposedly well-regulated cases the opportunity for terminally ill patients to choose assisted suicide. We, of course, would oppose that attempt, first because the attempt to take any human life ought to be legally proscribed, but also because of the precedent set by the abortion issue.
Abortion too was legalized in a supposedly well-regulated way, the regulations rapidly came to mean nothing and Canada now has a state-sanctioned slaughter of more than 100,000 unborn children a year. Legalizing assisted suicide would likely follow somewhat the same route.
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