Comment on the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in Robert William Latimer vs Her Majesty the Queen

Wednesday, January 17 2001

The Catholic Group for Health Justice and Life, which intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Robert Latimer case, welcomes the unanimous decision of the Court which upheld his conviction and mandatory sentencing for the murder of his twelve year old severely disabled daughter, Tracy.

The Court’s decision is an eloquent affirmation of the value of each human life and the role of the state to protect human life, especially when it is most vulnerable as in the case of Tracy Latimer. The court has forcefully underlined that “Killing a person – in order to relieve the suffering produced by a medically manageable physical or mental condition – is not a proportionate response to the harm represented by the non-life-threatening suffering resulting from that condition …. In considering the defence of necessity, we must remain aware of the need to respect the life, dignity and equality of all the individuals affected by the act in question. The fact that the victim in this case was disabled rather than able-bodied does not affect our conclusion that the three requirements for the defence of necessity had no air of reality here.”

The Court has recognized the important role that the mandatory minimum sentence plays in denouncing murder, particularly “where the victim is a vulnerable person with respect to age, disability, or other similar factors.”

There is no doubt that the Latimer family has suffered greatly and endured many difficulties in caring for their daughter. While we are pleased that our legal system has affirmed the fullness of life of Tracy Latimer, we emphasize the need that our social and health services be given the necessary resources to support people who are suffering and families who live with and care for people who have disabilities.

The Catholic Group for Health, Justice and Life represents four major organizations in the Catholic Church: the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, the Catholic Health Association of Canada, and the Canadian Association of the Knights of Columbus.