family

Disability Day of Mourning

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Every year on the first day of March, the disability community remembers those with disabilities who were murdered by family members or caregivers. In many cases, the murder is a filicide – a parent murdering their child. The reason to separate out the murder of those with disabilities is because of how the murders are reported, discussed, and excused.

When I shared information about a vigil last year, one response stuck out: Do we really need this? How often does it happen that we need to actually have this day?

In 2001, Andrea, a mother, murdered her five children. She drowned them, one after the other, because she thought they would go to hell when they got older. By drowning them, she was saving them, guaranteeing that they would go to heaven. She was convicted of murder, even after having expert witnesses testify that she was suffering from mental illness, including postnatal depression and apparent psychosis. Yates was sentenced to life in prison.

In this case, the sympathy goes to the children. They were innocent. They were babies. They were murdered by their own mother. She thought she was saving them, keeping them safe, making sure they had a good future. The public was outraged. How dare she think that she could decide what their futures would be like? Who cared if she was mentally ill? This crime was unthinkable – unforgivable!

Fast forward.

In 2016, a mother, Bonnie, murdered her daughter, Courtney. The mother drugged and killed her daughter. The mother said that she was worried, and that her daughter would only be safe and happy in heaven. The mother was sentenced to four years in prison.

Four years.

The outrage was for the mother.

The state’s attorney said “this case was a tragedy for everyone involved and given the tragic extenuating circumstances, we felt that a term of probation rather than imprisonment was the appropriate sentence.”

The state’s attorney.

The state didn’t want her to go to prison.

The state felt all she  deserved for murdering her daughter – for drugging and killing her daughter – was probation.

What were these “tragic extenuating circumstances”?

Courtney, the daughter murdered by her mother, had cerebral palsy and severe cognitive defects. She was 28 years old and required nearly constant medical care. She had been adopted by Bonnie when she was five years old. Bonnie adopted Courtney with the full knowledge of her medical needs.

Bonnie, instead of being thought of as a murderer who needed to go to jail for life, was instead praised. Her mother, father, sister, and friends discussed her great, boundless love for her daughter. They viewed her action as justified – as a mother trying to do right by her daughter, helping her daughter go to heaven.

In both cases, mothers were trying to save children they loved. In both cases, mothers committed murder.

In one case, the mother was viewed as evil. She had to be punished. It didn’t matter that she thought that she was savings her children and sending them to heaven. What she did was horrific and wrong.

In one case, the mother was viewed as a good woman. She needed sympathy. It was important that she thought that she was saving her child and sending her to heaven. What she did was kind and compassionate.

That is only one example out of many. The disability day of mourning website has lists of people with disabilities who were murdered by family members. They list them by age, by geographical location, and by year. The list they have is not complete, of course. They can only list cases that made it into the news, cases where the murderer is known, cases where the face that the victim was disabled appears in the news.

The disability day of mourning is meant to be a time to think about how we respond to these events. We are outraged when someone kills their child, unless we think that, somehow, the child caused undue stress on the parent. We find it a kindness that the parent was concerned about the child’s life, the child’s future. We praise the mother who murdered her disabled daughter because she wanted her to go to heaven; we condemn the mother who murdered her non-disabled children because she wanted them to go to heaven.

This is what I say when someone says to me: Do we really need this? How often does it happen that we need to actually have this day?

Yes, we need it. It happens more often than you think.

Sources:
Mom sentenced to jail for killing disabled adopted daughter
https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/18/health/mom-jail-killing-disabled-daughter/index.html

Yates: I’m Saving My Kids From Hell
https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130284&page=1

 

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