Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 19, 2001
Media ignored joy of Tracy Latimer
Advocate for disabled blames press coverage of Latimer trial for public sympathy to Tracy's murderer
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — An Edmonton advocate for the disabled is accusing the media of intentionally omitting information in the Robert Latimer murder trial.
"The media chose to ignore testimony that showed Tracy Latimer's happy times and her humanity, "says Mark Pickup. "The effect of it was they made Robert Latimer into a folk hero."
He said transcripts of the trial make it abundantly clear that although Tracy did have pain, she also had happiness and joy. Media from across Canada heard this testimony "yet chose to paint Tracy Latimer's life in the darkest, most tragic light," Pickup said in a recent interview.
"They chose not to report the humanity of Tracy Latimer. They simply chose to report her pain. Yes, she did have pain. But she also had joy for life."
Pickup, 47, has lived with progressive and degenerative multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years and says medicine has the tools to eliminate virtually all pain and control the rest.
The answer to pain, he said, is not to kill the patient but to develop a palliative care system to control pain.
Pickup, who sits on the University of Alberta ethics committee, spoke on the Latimer issue in Lethbridge and Edmonton in early February. He believes that if the media had not ignored Tracy's humanity, Latimer would not be enjoying the level of support he enjoys right now.
Latimer supporters who are trying to see the convicted killer's sentence reduced or revoked, as well as 73 per cent of Canadians who support his actions, are sending the message that disabled people are not equal to other Canadians, Pickup said.
It is only because Tracy was handicapped that people want mercy for her father, he contends. "Do you think that 73 per cent of Canadians would want him to have a lesser sentence if he had killed one of his other children? Of course not."
Why is Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who killed her two boys, so universally reviled and Robert Latimer is a folk hero? "The only difference is that Susan Smith's children were healthy and Tracy wasn't," Pickup said.
Society assumes it is better to be dead than handicapped, he noted. "That's the general view. I have actually had people said to me, 'I would rather be dead than be like you.' Once I had someone say to me, 'If it was a different time, we'd leave you on the side of the road.'"
He contends some Canadians are even talking about a third category of murder, called "compassionate homicide," intended for the killers of the disabled and the handicapped. Those convicted under that category would get reduced sentences.
"What that is saying to me is that the disabled are viewed as lesser persons of lesser value than the rest of the population."
The irony is that if a non-handicapped person talks about suicide, they are sent for psychiatric care, but if a handicapped person talks about suicide, there are people who think they should be assisted, Pickup said.
"In this North American culture, which the Holy Father calls a culture of death, we have accepted the notion that there is such a thing as life that is not worth living and that's the life of the handicapped and the disabled."
This "societal hostility" towards people with disabilities and handicaps is the bitter result of having moved away from the Judeo-Christian principle that one mustn't kill the weak, he said.
"We need to go back to the idea that all life has value. A human life doesn't have value just because it can contribute, but it has value simply because it is."
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