Robert Latimer paroled

The Globe and Mail reports that after serving seven years in prison for the mercy killing of his severely disabled daughter, Robert Latimer will be freed on day parole this week. The appeal division of the National Parole Board has overturned a parole board decision last December that rejected Latimer’s parole application. Parole has been granted on the determination that Latimer does not pose an undue risk to reoffend.

As the Globe points out, Latimer’s killing of his daughter ignited a national debate on the ethics and legality of mercy killing. Motivated by the escalating medical problems and limited relief from pain being incurred by his daughter, Latimer killed his daughter via carbon monoxide gassing.

In a 1997 hearing the trial judging, Mr. Justice G.E. (Ted) Noble of the Court of Queen’s Bench, declared “It is my opinion that the evidence establishes Mr. Latimer was motivated solely by his love and compassion for [his daughter] Tracy and the need — at least in his mind — that she not suffer any more pain.”

I had not kept in informed on the Robert Latimer situation. However, reading this story reminded me of an element of medical, legal and societal moral philosophy that I think needs to be tinkered with: a dogmatic commitment to life. By this I mean that many people seem to hold life above all else — absolutely all else. If a person is living a life of constant suffering in which there is no known solution, nor is one expected to be developed any time soon, why should a society be opposed to allowing for euthanasia? If a person attempts suicide and is severely and permanently maimed, why are doctors obligated to do all that they can to keep the person alive? Can we not appreciate that there are fates worse than death? People may couch these sorts of uber-pro-life policies in high-minded moralistic language, but when it comes right down to it, it ccan be state-prescribed torture.

I’m happy that there has been meaningful progress away from dogmatic generalized pro-lifism toward compassion for human well-being (e.g., legalized abortion), but much more progress can still be made.

I must comment on my own comment. I’m sure that pro-life individuals (as well as non-pro-lifers, for that matter) will jump on me and say that I’m a dogmatically considerate of well-being and suffering in these issues.¬† There is some truth to this. When I consider issues such as abortion, euthanasia and the like (i..e., life and death type issues), I consider such questions as: What are the effects on individual and societal well-being and suffering? Does the killer have a claim to the subject’s life (e.g., the pregnant woman could say “yes” in that the infant is a parasite on its body, but she has no claim to the person she passes on the street)? Would legalizing X promote the establishment of a culture of fear or set some sort of dangerous precedent? For my position on abortion, see here (note that extensive discussion took place in the comment section). It appears that in considering these sorts of moral quandaries, people with a deep interest in the issue tend to side on one side of the issue or another as a function of which of the following issues they view as the most important: life itself or concern over well-being and suffering. When it comes to abortion, I clearly prioritize the latter.

Hat Tip: This Busy Monster

One Response to “Robert Latimer paroled”
  1. There seems to be a vein of basic distrust in the pro-life community. It’s almost like in the absence of strict rules, they know they would run around and do horrible things. Ted Haggard and Larry Craig both aggressively criticized homosexuals, but are both closeted homosexuals. Perhaps the pro-life community are all closeted murderers who don’t trust themselves to act with decency.

    Latimer is definitely a decent guy. I remember following this case from the beginning. He acted out of love for his child. It’s sickening how he was treated.

    If you start from the assumption that humans are caring and compassionate, it is easy to see how euthanasia should be an option. If you start from a position of suspicion, hate and fear, you wind up objecting to the idea of euthanasia and causing more unnecessary suffering.

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