Is one individual justified in deciding that another's life is too unbearable to continue? Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada recently answered the preceding question with a resounding and unanimous "No."
Robert Latimer was sentenced to life in prison after more than seven years of appeals and legal battles. It will be 10 years before he will even get the chance to see the light of day and, while the world is no safer, I am sleeping better at night.
Mr. Latimer cannot be seen as a threat to society or as a threat to re-offend, yet his punishment and incarceration are absolutely necessary. What the Supreme Court did by punishing him is send a firm message that must be respected. We all have the right to choose, the right to decide and no one can exercise absolute control over us.
One of the fundamental aspects of democracy is that we are free individuals and, lest we consent, no one may act on our behalf. None of us enjoy watching our loved ones suffer but that does not entitle us to decide whether it is so horrible that death is the only solution.
Robert Latimer never denied killing his young disabled daughter Tracy. He was the one who explained to RCMP officers how, when and why he did it. His motivations for committing such an act have never been in doubt. He spent every day watching his own daughter suffer and he could no longer stand it. Let us not deny him that; Robert Latimer loved his daughter immensely.
However, was it her suffering he could no longer bear, or the suffering he endured as a witness to it? There are many who have watched helplessly as loved ones suffer; be it through illness, physical pain or severe emotional trauma. Simply because they are intimately intertwined with us, are we in any position to think for them or to make their decisions?
In short, no. We are not capable of knowing what people wish of us with any amount of certainty unless they tell us directly (and often not even then). Can we honestly be so presumptuous to think that we can commit so final an act as euthanizing someone on the belief that it's best for them, that it is their final wish?
Cerebral Palsy can be a devastating condition but it is not terminal and may not be unbearable. It demands a great deal of care and attention, a commitment of time and money that was possibly beyond Latimer's means. This is a sad truth but not one that should change the way in which the law is observed or applied.
While I sympathize greatly with his motives, I am incredibly relieved with the verdict that has come down. It reaffirms the principle of personal choice, the right of people to live free of the control of others. It establishes that emotion and intent cannot be inferred or assumed but rather that they must be expressed.
Robert Latimer found Tracy's suffering intolerable. We will never know how she found it.