Murder, Not Mercy

by Cara Liebowitz

They’re trying to kill us.

More specifically, they’re trying to kill me.

Please spare me your platitudes about how you’re not trying to kill me, of course not!  “You’re one of the lucky ones.” you tell me.  “We only want to put the severely disabled out of their misery.”  Implicit in this argument is the assumption that I couldn’t possibly be severely disabled, because I have a voice.  I’m actively arguing against you.

But you don’t know me.  You don’t know a thing about me.  I could be a full time powerchair user, I could be fed through a g-tube, I could be using a communication device.  And the truth is, I’m none of those things.  But I could be.  And even if I was?  I’d still be happy.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to be dead.

You say you want to end the lives of those who are suffering.  Well, if that’s true, then you want to kill me.  Am I suffering?  Absolutely.  Not from my CP, but from the pain that plagues me every day.  The pain could go away tomorrow and I wouldn’t miss it.  But I’d still rather be in pain than dead.  And I’d like to make that choice myself, thank you very much.

You say you’d rather die than be like us.  Like me.  And that’s sad, because you have no idea what our lives are really like.  But that’s your choice.  Those people you killed – directly or indirectly – they didn’t have that choice.  Tracy didn’t have a choice.  George didn’t have a choice.  And that’s what you really want, isn’t it?  That’s your definition of “severely disabled” – incapable of expressing their choice the usual way, the right way, the normal way, so you pretend to be a noble hero and make that choice for them.

I can speak.  I can say “Stop!” when someone is trying to hurt me.  But after I’m dead, will you pretend I couldn’t?  Will you exploit the hardships of my life in order to perpetuate the idea that bodies like ours are broken?  Will you even acknowledge that I was happy, and yes, even proud, just the way I was?

You call it mercy.  I call it murder.

On Friday night, I stood in a dimly lit park, surrounded by my friends, my brothers, my sisters in the fight against ableism.  I held a candle up to the sky in memory of all of my disabled brethren who were cruelly snatched, against their will, from this world.  Not because of the natural path of illness or injury, not even because of a tragic accident.  No, these people were not with us because someone willfully, purposely, decided that their lives were not worth living.  Someone actively decided to kill them.  All in the name of “mercy” and a twisted sense of moral obligation.  If their lives were not cut short, who knows?  They might have been at that vigil with us, joining hands and hearts, building a sense of community among disabled people of extraordinarily diverse backgrounds.   But we have no way of knowing – because someone decided they didn’t deserve to live.

As a group, we must rise up.  As a group, we must protest, in any way, shape or form that we can.  We cannot let these murders go unnoticed.  The time has passed to be nice, and polite, and grateful for the scraps of humanity that society throws in our direction.  We must demand our personhood, and we must demand it now.  Because if we are too afraid to stand for our rights, if we turn our backs on these atrocities because we are terrified that if we speak up, they will kill us too and blame it on our pitiful suffering, this will keep happening.  It already has.

They’re trying to kill us.

They’re trying to kill me.

And I’m scared.

*All three videos are captioned. Please let us know if there’s a problem.
**You can read the poem that Lydia Brown is reading in the last video at http://autistichoya.blogspot.com/2012/03/not-human-anymore-is-this-what-ally.html

Poems by Meg Mertens

by Meg Mertens

Death, Despair, Murder

George, Tracy, Willowbrook, More

When will we have rights?

* * *

I was in the house

Mother told me I should die

No one objected

* * *

I tire of seeing the deaths of others

The calm talk, the debate, murder not mercy

They talk of killing our sisters and our brothers

The newspaper coverage pled understanding for his mother, a travesty

People say we don’t understand discrimination

I say, I knew what a hate crime was when I was five

We understand many things well, especially your damnation

George Hodgins never reached twenty three, why do the masses say he was a burden alive?

We should not have to live in terror of our families deciding our worth

I hope one day to read the paper and see a ‘mercy’ murder judged for what it truly is, killing

Many people are caught up in foolishness, judging people by their birth

Until that day comes I will wait, and when it does it will be gratifying

I will always be ready to discuss

About us, not without us.

* * *

Anger, hate, pain, fear

Our numbers have decreased

Our value has not

* * *

A parent hears cries of pain

What we hear is attempts at communication

We are no changeling children, what would we gain?

We did not steal those perfect babies, much to your lamentation

I see your eyes as they look past

My friend is not my handler, I am my own being

If you lived a day like mine, you would not last

I am an expert in myself, something you are not seeing

Mom, what is the matter?

Mom, why do you have that gun?

Mom, why are you crying? I didn’t mean to make you sadder.

Mom, why did you kill your son?

I’m sorry no one saw how unhappy you’ve been

Fin

* * *

George Hodgins, Dead

Does his name ring a bell? No?

I did not think so

I might not be perfect

I’m no changeling, but your child

Why did you kill me?

* * *

We at DRN decided it was best to forego posting on April 2nd in honor of Autism Acceptance Day, to avoid taking traffic away from anyone participating in that event. 

Vigil Report: Virtual Vigil and Boston

by Erin Lewy

I was fortunate enough to attend vigils for George Hodgins both virtually and in Boston.  Each left a lasting impression on me.  At the virtual vigil, we were lucky enough to have a video connection to DC.  While we weren’t able to see much, we received audio of Ari Ne’eman’s words.  The experience was powerful and left me feeling connected to a larger movement, underlining exactly why I was there and energizing me for Boston.

Ari’s words, clearly from the heart, were never written down.  At the Boston vigil, there was a lot of impassioned, off-the-cuff speaking too.  I was ultimately able to see the autistic self-advocacy movement first-hand, from M., who spoke passionately about disability from within her faith community in New England, to “Squid,” who missed the bulk of the virtual vigil but came with the intent of lighting a candle at home and reading the names of four hundred and fifty eight murder victims with disabilities.

Thankfully, video will be available from several vigils, including the vigil in DC.  When this footage is made available on YouTube, we will bring it to you, so that you can experience what several of us did on the night of Friday, March 30.  A crowd of thirty filled Farragut Park in memory of George, a number which we were all proud of.  Still more spilled out in virtual space, expressing our fear, sadness and outrage.

Through these vigils for George, I realized that we were all handling our fear and sadness to the best of our ability.  We came together, over a period of two days in eighteen cities across the United States, to mourn and also connect.  I felt this the most strongly when I met the director of Second Thoughts, an organization in Massachusetts fighting the good fight against a “Death with Dignity” act being proposed on the 2012 ballot.  I am fortunate to have such a resource close to me and yet also terrified that it is necessary.  As our conversation turned to euthanasia and assisted suicide, it was underscored for me that there are people in the world who think it’s perfectly valid to ask us all to disappear, to die with “dignity” and leave the fit, the healthy, and the “normal” in peace.  With such a law on the books, I know that my people could easily be coerced and worse, and suddenly these acts would be legal.

As I thought about my own challenges in reaching the Boston vigil, from inaccessible streets to a terrible lack of direction, I was heartened that I had made my way.  I made several connections which I know will continue to blossom over time, and really, in the face of sheer tragedy, there is nothing more I could ask for.  Through this project for George, I have found the community I was desperately seeking, and though we are bruised and battered we are never broken.

People gather with candles in Boston Common to remember George Hodgins and other people with disabilities murdered by family and caregivers.

Photo by Burton Pusch

Representations of “Mercy Killing”

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.

Memes, Culture, and Death of People With Disabilities

by Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Meme- A thought, idea, or image; a cultural unit. They grow, evolve, mutate, and cause other memes to occur. They are the building blocks of culture. They encompass everything mankind has come in contact with.  They aren’t inherently good or bad, but their influence can have positive or negative effects on how those living in a culture are treated.

In the western culture, people with disabilities live with a number of damaging memes. Memes that convey to those around us that we are a burden, that our needs are impossible to fully meet. Memes that deny us individuality to the point where even when we are murdered, the stories are about our murderers instead of about us.

I’m an Autistic adult. I live surrounded by memes that deny my truth. They say that children are the “real” ones, Or that we will forever be children. They say that my writing to you “proves” I’m not like most Autistics. They say that there are never enough supports, that I’ll need care all my life, that living on my own is a dream- unless I’m a “savant” in which case I’ll still need help, but that there will be that one thing I’ll be perfect at. That my alternatives are to sink, or to soar.

George Hodgins was an Autistic adult. He and his family dreamed of a day when George could be served in a way that integrated him into the community. And when George was murdered, the papers referred to this 22 year old young man as a child. They denied his dreams by talking about him as his mother’s “burden”, they used the images of people like him that we all already knew to justify his death.

They used falsehoods that by virtue of being common memes have cultural power to protect another meme- the meme of maternal instinct. After all, if all the things about the idea of motherhood are false, if a mother can act against her offspring, then a core part of our culture is not as certain as we believed.

My friend Kassiane is another Autistic adult. Her mother was also protected by the meme of maternal instinct. You can read more about Kassiane’s experiences with it in her blog posts, The Happy Family Meme, and Conflicted Emotions.

George’s mom killed him. No, she murdered him. It wasn’t her only option.  She took the ideas about people like him and internalized them. She also took the ideas of a mother needing to do anything for her kids, and internalized them. She then decided to take his life, a combination of twisted logic and negative imagery, to murder him to suit her own ideas of how things should go. She murdered him. The end.

George DID have access to services. The way this has been reported in the media is inaccurate. His mother, however, decided they weren’t “good enough” and pulled him while searching for more community based ones based on an aside from an aide at his school.

The aide mentioned he’d do better in a more community based program. One that integrated him better into the community. Honestly, I agree with the assessment- the lack of community integrated programs is troubling. It’s what we should be pushing for instead of what *is* available most of the time- segregated or limited integration settings.

Instead of keeping George in the adult day program at his school while she looked for such a program, she pulled him. No one knows why she didn’t keep him in while she looked for a better program. It wasn’t a bad place for what it was- the primary flaw was just that we should be integrating people into their communities instead.

When we reiterate the myth in the media about what services are available, we do a disservice to the memory of George. When we focus on his mother’s search- one that was done improperly- we continue to erase or make small George’s part in his own life.

His mother did a horrible, irrational thing. But the reporting out there minimizes her irrationality by acting like it was about a true lack of services. When they report it like it was an act of desperation they are just playing into the images of us as burdens, our mothers as maternal and emotionally anchoring, instead of taking a truth that challenges that image.