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Issue 5


photo of protesters at Carr hearing

Protesters call for jail for Carr



MEDIA EDGE department
Mercy! Here we go again

By Steve Drake

The first story from the Associated Press was short: two men in Griffin, Georgia had been shot to death in their beds in a nursing home -- shot by their mother, who went to the lobby afterwards to wait for police to come.

The murder was horrifying. So was all-too-certain knowledge that this would not be a case viewed by the Georgia community with horror at all, for Michael Randy Scott, 42, and Andy Byron Scott, 41, were described as having "suffered from a long-term degenerative disease." (The next day readers would learn it was Huntington's Chorea.) The only uncertainty on the part of disability activists was how long it would take for the term "mercy killing" to be applied to the murders.

Not long. Scott Walters, attorney for the mother, Carol Carr, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Jeffrey Scott on June 11 that Carr, discovering Randy Scott had been catheterized, believed he was in pain.

"He's begging her with his eyes. She knew he was crying for mercy," Walters explained.

There it was. "Mercy."

"The investigation shows it's a mercy killing," Lt. Joe Estenes of the Griffin police told Scott. "We don't believe it was premeditated. But the law doesn't differentiate between a mercy killing and premeditated killing. It's really bothering me, man."

The day before, James Scott, the lone surviving son of Carol Carr, had talked in the newspaper about problems at the Sunbridge nursing home, where Randy and Andy had been placed after their mother could no longer care for them by herself.

"We kept having problems with the nursing home, getting them to change their bed linens. We had a big fight with them two weeks ago, trying to get them to help. They left them in there soaking wet, " he said. "We went down there Friday, and it was the same thing."

Journal-Constitution reporter Carrie Teegardin, in a story the next day about problems at the Sunbridge nursing home, gave credence to Scott's claims. "The Griffin nursing home where Carol Carr allegedly killed her two terminally ill sons has a long history of understaffing, poor care and dangerous conditions, state inspection records show" she wrote. "In November 2000, conditions were so hazardous at Sunbridge Care and Rehabilitation . . . that inspectors cited the facility for five violations that placed residents in 'immediate jeopardy' of serious injury or death."

It was the last time the issues of neglect and abuse would surface in the unfolding story. The Huntington's Disease Society of America issued a June 11 press release describing the terrible "burden" experienced by those who have the disease and the burden borne by those close to them. It encouraged people to write to Walters with letters supporting Carr; there was no mention of community-based services as an alternative to what Randy and Andy had gone through.

Coverage of the neglect and abuse issue would have allowed us to ask why the Scott brothers weren't given assistance while living at home.

James Scott has had a major impact on the coverage of the case. Though he too had developed symptoms of the condition, he had hidden it until the murders. Now he talked freely to reporters. His brothers, he said, had "died a few years ago." He hoped to die himself, he said, when the condition progressed to an unacceptable level for him.

After June 11, Randy and Andy were increasingly referred to as "terminally ill" rather than "disabled." This, and the lack of attention to problems with the nursing home, seemed to effectively foreclose discussion of these matters. Continuing coverage of the neglect and abuse issue would have allowed people with disabilities to ask why the Scott brother weren't being allowed to have assistance while living at home. Calling them "terminally ill" rather than "disabled" meant that the issue was no longer pegged as one in which the disability community might legitimately have a say.

That's what happened when Georgia activist Mark Johnson emailed reporter Jeffrey Scott. Scott replied that he was determined not to let either side in the "mercy killing debate" "hitch a ride" on the story. Johnson, though, continued to press the reporter, pointing out that nursing home abuse and neglect had been important parts of the original story. Scott acknowledged the disability community's perspective might be appropriate in future coverage of the case -- but there were no promises.

As the Carr story gained nationwide coverage, opinion pieces by those supportive of Carr began appearing. A July 5 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by Lewis Whittington, who explained that he had dealt with a serious and long illness with his own sister, continued, "Many people don't realize the emotional and physical demands put on a caregiver of someone who is partially or fully paralyzed," he wrote. "They call it custodial care and that means someone is manually taking care of physical necessities -- dressing them several times a day, bathing them, moving their limbs, making sure they are nourished, and disposing of waste, just for starters."

An Aug. 6 letter in the Boston Globe from Boston Hemlock Society President Nancy Dorfman lamented the limitations of the Oregon "death with dignity" law, assuming that Carol Carr's murder of her sons is what they would have wanted (The Globe headlined the letter "When suicide is the answer," apparently unaware -- or not caring -- that the Scott brothers did not commit suicide.).


Disability activists respond to news media

Activists Maggie Dee, Josie Byzek, and Zan Thornton wrote letters to the Journal Constitution; they were printed, but overwhelmed by letters of support for Carr and involuntary euthanasia.. Chicago disability activists met with Chicago Tribune Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold, who eventually agreed to run an op-ed by disability writer Mike Ervin; Ervin's piece, "There's no such thing as a 'mercy killing'" appeared in mid July.

New York City activists Nadina LaSpina and Danny Robert met with Debra Lovecky of the Huntington's Disease Society of America; impact of the meeting has so far been hard to gauge. Mark Johnson has been reaching out to the Huntington's Disease group in Georgia; he hopes that the group will soon join Georgia activists in advocating for home-based alternatives to nursing homes. Perhaps, he hopes, there'll be an opportunity to talk about the dangers we all face as a result of the belief that Scott brothers weren't really persons any more, and that their deaths shouldn't count as a real murder.

Because if that message wins the day, no one with a cognitive disability is safe.

Steve Drake is Research Director of Not Dead Yet.

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