In 1974 21-year-old Robert Latimer and a friend were convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl from Wilkie, Saskatchewan, but the convictions were overturned on appeal when the appeals court ruled that Justice E.D. Bayda hadn't permitted sufficient evidence of the girl's sexual history to be admitted, and had rushed the deliberation process. (4)
By 1980 Bob Latimer was married to wife Laura and owned a 1280-acre canola and wheat farm near Wilkie. The oldest of their four children, Tracy Lynn, was born on November 23rd of that year. Due to lack of oxygen at birth, Tracey had cerbral palsy. At four months of age she began experiencing continuous convulsions, and these were reduced to 5-6 seizures a day with the drug Rivitrol. At age four, Tracy underwent her first surgery to help relieve tension and pain in her legs caused by muscle degeneration. According to her parents, further degeneration made Tracy's pain continuous, but painkillers stronger than Tylenol, when combined with her anti-seizure drugs, would have weakened her respiration and reflexes to such an exent that she would have to be placed on life support.
By 1990 Tracy had scoliosis and problems with hip dislocation. She underwent her second surgery to relieve tension and pain from muscle degeneration.
Tracy functioned at the level of a three- or four-month-old. Unable to walk, talk, or feed herself, she required round-the-clock care. However, she was able to attend special education classes and was an expressive, affectionate child. Her mother and other family members could always tell when she was happy, disappointed, or enthused; they knew which foods and toys she liked best (she was a meat-and-potatoes girl, and loved to ring bells). Caring for Tracy was a heavy responsibility, but apparently not an overwhelming one for the Latimers; they had son Brian in 1983 and daughter Lindsay in 1985. They continued to care for Tracy at home.
In '91 Laura suffered a miscarriage. When she became pregnant again in the autumn of '92, just a few months after Tracy underwent corrective spinal surgery, she was concerned that lifting and carrying 50-lb. Tracy could cause another miscarriage. In Laura's seventh month, the Latimers placed Tracy in the North Battleford group home. She reportedly lost several pounds there. Doctors had suggested the insertion of a feeding tube, which would have alleviated feeding problems and allowed Tracy to take stronger pain medication, but the Latimers refused.
The Latimers' son Lee was born in August '93, and Tracy returned home in October. The family was arranging for her to be enrolled at the same school her siblings attended. Her pain came and went, but at times she was happy and playful, according to daily entries in her mom's journal. Laura's entry for the night of October 6 noted that Tracey had a good evening and was quite cheerful.
One week earlier, euthanasia had been in the news when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Sue Rodriguez's challenge to Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code (outlawing assisted suicide). Rodriguez had been diagnosed with ALS in 1991 and fought for the right to die. In '94 she killed herself with the aid of a doctor, in the presence of New Democratic MP Svend Robinson (a supporter).
In mid-October, Dr. Anne Dzus recommended that Tracy undergo hip surgery. It was at this point, Bob Latimer later said, that he decided it would be better for Tracy to die. He had already decided that a feeding tube was "out of the question", and without pain medication much stronger than Tylenol, the surgery and recovery could be extremely painful for Tracey. She had recovered well from her other surgeries and remained a happy child in general, but Dr Dzus expessed concern about the "incredible" amount of pain Tracey could experience post-op. The procedure might have involved the removel of a portion of her thigh bone. The surgery was scheduled for November 19. (2)
On the morning of Sunday, October 23, 1993 Laura took the three youngest children to church, leaving Robert to care for Tracy, who was still in bed. She returned several hours later to find her daughter still in bed, dead. She had apparently passed away in her sleep. Her funeral was held three days later.
On November 1, RCMP officers conducting the sudden-death investigation received the toxicology report from Tracy's autopsy. At the time she died, her blood had been 80% saturated with carbon monoxide (over 50% can be fatal). Since no one else at the Latimer farm was suffering the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, this was not accidental.
Bob Latimer was arrested on November 4th. Under questioning he admitted to killing his daughter, ostensibly to save her from more pain and suffering. He had carried Tracy to his pickup, placed her on the seat, and run a hose from the tailpipe to the truck's window to pump exhaust into the cabin. Then he sat on the truck's fender and waited for Tracy to die. When she stopped breathing he returned Tracy's body to her bed for his wife to discover. He told everyone she had passed away in her sleep.
Charged with first-degree murder, Bob spent just 8 days in jail before being released on his own recognizance, pending trial. On November 16th he told CBC reporter Amy Jo Ehman he didn't feel a crime had been committed. He was even allowed to keep the crime scene, his truck.
On November 16th of the following year, Bob was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 years without parole. Laura had testified in his defense, as had Dr. Dszu and - bizarrely - Justice Bayda, the same judge who had presided over his rape trial in '74. Witnesses concurred that Tracey had been loved and cared-for by her family. Laura said, "We lost Tracy when she was born", and explained that her birth had been "way sadder" than her death. She expressed no resentment towards her husband for killing their daughter and leaving the body for her to find. She said she wished for Tracey to die rather than undergo the hip surgery, and told Bob so. She felt happy for Tracey when she found her dead. The issue, she said, was not Tracey's disability but her continuous, uncontrollable pain. (2)
Latimer's conviction was upheld, overturned, then reinstated. In 2006, eagerly anticipating his first shot at parole, he told the CBC that he didn't think about his daughter much anymore and that he did the right thing by killing her. "We were in a position where, by law, we were forced to cut her leg off and put a feeding tube into her," he said. "We were never going to do any of those things." (6) Latimer's reasons for refusing a feeding tube for his daughter are unclear. It should also be noted that Tracy's leg would not have been removed entirely; a portion of the thigh bone might have been removed. Since Tracy had always been unable to walk, this would not have been a major change for her.
Last week, after 5 years, Bob Latimer was denied parole. He remains incarcerated on Vancouver Island.
1. "Cruel and Unusual: The Law and Latimer" by Martin O'Malley and Owen Wood, Dec. 6/07, CBC News In-Depth online
2. Robert Latimer's website (http://www.robertlatimer.net/)
3. Wikipedia entry for Robert Latimer
4. Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN) Digest online, Volume 1 No. 3
5. Wikipedia entry for Sue Rodriguez
6. Canadian Council on Disabilities summary of the Latimer case
7. Robert Latimer chronology compiled by Norman Kunc & Emma Van der Klift(www.normemma.com/latimer_chronology.htm)
8. "Robert Latimer counting down the days to parole", Canadian Press, Sept. 21/06, from CTV.ca
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