by Jenna Clark
The media discusses “mercy killing” as if it’s an acceptable part of human behavior. As a person with a disability — as a human being — I find this trend disturbing.
A few weeks ago, 22-year-old George Hodgins was killed by his mother before she turned the gun on herself. And because George was autistic, news reports largely portrayed this horrible murder-suicide as a tragedy — for the mother. In many articles, George is not even mentioned by name. His personhood is discarded as an unnecessary side note in a bigger picture.
The only difference our society sees between murder and “mercy killing” is the perception about whose life has worth. But who makes that decision? Whose definition of “worth” are we subscribing to, or is the definition given a fluidity depending on the specific circumstances?
In 1993, Robert Latimer murdered his 12-year-old daughter Tracy by exposing her to lethal levels of carbon monoxide. She was left in the cab of a truck, the engine running and the exhaust pipe funneling the fatal gas into a place from which she had no escape. Is this act less horrific because Tracy had cerebral palsy? Or is it worse because while others could try and escape, she couldn’t? Would it be “mercy” if a parent murdered their diabetic child? How about a child with dyslexia?
Are we, as a society, even trying to see life from another’s perspective?
Differences are never a justification for murder. If we want to discuss the woefully underfunded and often missing services for people with disabilities, great. But whatever gap in services may or may not be present, murder is murder. And a supposed “mercy killing” says a lot about how society sees me.
It says that as a person with a disability, my life has less inherent value than a person with no disabilities. That George and Tracy and all the others murdered aren’t afforded the same justice as other victims of violent crime.
In the case of George Hodgins, what is being discussed is the hardship disability posed upon his mother. But what about George, the family that loves and misses him, and the friends who mourn his loss?
Without a national discussion, this problem won’t go away. Right now, the discussion is being replaced by the majority’s uninformed assumptions about life with a disability. But guess what?
We are people.
We are equals.
And we demand equality.