Tragic Rant: State of Emergency

About a week ago I posted about Justice Colin Westman, a local judge who refused to send a desperate mother who attempted to kill her severely autistic son back to jail.  An edited version of my blog post, following a request, was featured as a letter to the editor a few days later in our local paper.  Letters to the editor have followed, some agreeing with my position, some strongly disagreeing and chastising the Judge by noting that had the child been able-bodied the mother would still be in jail.

Therein, of course, lies the rub.  The child wasn’t able bodied and the mother had been an extreme caregiver for the better part of two decades.  I think we need to remember, had the child been able-bodied or had we as a society offered more comprehensive support to child and mother, it is unlikely the mother would have reached such a point of utter desperation.

Many people in my community have mentioned that they saw my letter and several have wanted to talk about my comments.  This is a good thing since it allows me to clarify my position further and to discuss the overwhelming challenges many extreme caregivers live with on a daily basis.  The most recent conversation was this morning, so the topic still seems current.

Some people seem think that because I strongly endorsed compassion for the mother I somehow also endorse the killing of one’s child.  Hmmmmm.  Seems like a logical fallacy if I ever heard one.

Let me perfectly clear.  Do I condone the killing of one’s child.  Of course not! My point, very simply, is that if parents are reaching a point where they think that the only possible way out of a situation is death – either they own, their child’s, or both – then the situation has reached a such a severe crisis point that we as a society have an ethical obligation to analyze and address the problem.

Sadly we as a society also have a tendency to want to turn blinders to situations like these until the crisis is so overwhelming that it is impossible to ignore.  Hollow rationale, unhelpful narratives, large-scale selfishness, and willful ignorance perpetuate many situations of deep suffering.  If we don’t “see” the problem it can’t be that bad, can it?  If it doesn’t impact us it can be so very easy to ignore.  Case in point.  Attiwapiskat.  One has to ask, how many attempted suicides or homicides will be necessary to declare a state of emergency for extreme caregivers and their children?

Because we need to remember Justice Westman’s case isn’t an isolated incident.  My blog is pretty young.  I have only been actively blogging for about two months.  And already I have written about two recent stories where a parent either successfully killed their profoundly disabled child, or attempted to do so, because the mother seemed to genuinely believe that death was either the best, or only, answer to their profound suffering.

I repeat my question.  How many times do we need to tell this story before extreme caregivers can declare a state of emergency? Because for many it is.

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