I read an awesome blog last week about Kelli Stapleton. For those that don’t know, Kelli Stapleton was just sentenced 10 – 22 years in prison on October 8 for attempting to murder her daughter, Issy, then 14, who is autistic. Kelly took Issy to an isolated area, drugged her, shut herself up in a van with
Issy and two lit charcoal grills, told her daughter that she loved her, and quietly waited for the both of them to fall asleep together. Luckily, someone discovered them and took them to a hospital before it was too late. Issy was in a coma for three weeks and has suffered some brain damage. Kelly
pleaded guilty at trial to first degree child abuse, and advocates feared that she’d receive a more lenient sentence than she would for attempted murder on a non-disabled child. However, her sentence is commensurate with one for that crime.
I’ve tried to write this blog post many times already and can’t
seem to get it right, so I’m going to try to make this as simple as possible. There’s a long, long list of disabled people who were murdered by their parents. The list to which I just linked begins with Canadian Tracy Latimer, who was 12 years when she was murdered by her father, Robert Latimer. I was fifteen, just three years older than Tracy, and just starting volunteer work with disabled people when Tracy Latimer’s death hit the news. I was just starting to develop a different lens through which to see her death than the 73% of Canadians in 1999 who thought that his action was taken out of compassion, and the 41% who believed in mercy killing (Ipsos 1999 ). I always thought that he should go to prison.
I vacillated as to how long as the case developed. Even at that age I could appreciate how difficult it
must be to watch your kid in pain and not be able to do anything about it…not even give her pain
medication, because it didn't work. And to know that her body was just going to keep breaking down,
requiring surgery after surgery, until keeping her together was going to be more painful than letting
her fall apart. It had to be hell. How long could you really keep a father in prison who only wanted to
spare his daughter more pain?
I don’t know when I turned the corner on it, but now I say that he should have served the same
amount of time that he would have if he’d murdered a non-disabled child, as Autistic Self-Advocacy
Network’s Ari Ne’eman argued at Kelli Stapleton’s sentencing hearing. A disabled child’s life is a life, and there’s already a perception out there that disabled people are disposable that doesn't need
further encouragement. Besides, I think Robert Latimer’s desire not to see his daughter in pain was also at least in part about him no longer having to watch his daughter in pain…and it’s not fair that she ultimately paid the price for that. Because of a technicality with his first trial, it was 8 years before Latimer even went to prison forsecond-degree murder. He was out in 9 years.
But back to Issy and Kelli Stapleton.
As I said, most Canadians supported Robert Latimer’s actions, and Kelli Stapleton definitely has her
supporters too – particularly on social media, and on the blog that she wrote. This isn’t unusual when
a parent kills a disabled child, especially since the media tends to paint the parent in a sympathetic
light and to play up the difficulties involved in parenting the disabled child. The Dr. Phil Show in
particular drew a great deal of criticism for this after interviewing Kelli Stapleton from prison.
I watched Dr. Phil’s two-part show about Kelli Stapleton's actions – twice – and I think that part of the problem was that there two important discussions that arise from stories like this, and one really got almost totally ignored – by the Dr. Phil Show and in general by the media.