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Sympathy for Robert Latimer linked to increase in child murders
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

Edmonton, Alberta, Apr. 3, 2002 Between 1990 and 1994, the average number of Canadian murder cases in which parents killed their children was 34 each year, according to University of Alberta psychology professor Dick Sobsey.

Between 1994 and 1998, the average rate of such deaths was 49, with 62 cases in 1997 alone.

Why the increase in what Sobsey calls "altruistic filicide", the killing of a child out of a belief that death is in the child's best interest?

Sobsey, the head of J.P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, points to the 1993 murder of Tracy Latimer, and the media coverage surrounding her death and her murderer's court trials.

"After 1994, we saw a big increase in the number of parents killing their children in Canada," Sobsey said.

Robert Latimer gassed to death 12-year-old Tracy by pumping pick-up exhaust into the cab where he had placed her. He was convicted of murder after he confessed killing Tracy to "end her suffering" from her developmental disabilities.

Latimer is currently serving a minimum 10 years of a life sentence in a Saskatchewan prison.

The case has become a focal point of a debate between disability rights advocates who see Tracy's death as one of countless examples of extreme abuse upon people with disabilities, and people who believe that "mercy killing" is justified when the victim has a severe disability. Most on both sides agree, however, that the media and public sentiment favors Robert Latimer.

Sobsey said that early news coverage was very sympathetic toward Latimer, often presenting him as a loving father who wanted to end his daughter's suffering.

"It was only during the trial that some of the things said in the media reports - that Tracy was born dead and resuscitated, that she couldn't tolerate pain medication - were shown to be false," said Sobsey. "Over time the reporting became more balanced and thoughtful. But there was an early bandwagon effect in the press."

"People will identify more closely with a person in the public eye who is portrayed as noble or heroic," Sobsey added, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Background and past articles on the Latimer case are available from this Inclusion Daily Express Web page: http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/crime/latimer.htm

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