How does it make you feel when you hear a story about a mother killing her child?

Does hearing that the child had a disability change how you feel?

For some people, it does. It changes how they feel enough so that they’ll start speaking as if they support the parent’s actions, citing unbearable stress and lack of supports and not being able to take the pain to see of seeing a child with disabilities in pain. We heard the media and public talk about this in Canada when Robert Latimer put his 12-year-old daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy, in his truck, connecting a hose from hose from the tailpipe to the cab so that she’d die from carbon monoxide poisoning (more about Robert Latimer) , and when Annette Corriveau talked about wanting to have the right to kill her adult children, Jeffrey and Janet, both of whom have severe disabilities (more about Annette Corriveau – note, Jeffrey and Janet are in their 40’s.)

And we’re hearing it again now, after the death of Alex Spourdalakis at the hands of his mother, Dorothy Spourdalakis, and caregiver Jolanta Skrodzka. Alex was 14. The two women gave him pills in order to kill him, and when that didn’t work, stabbed him 4 times, twice in the heart. They also slit his wrist to the point where one of his hands was nearly severed.  The two women then killed the family cat and overdosed on pills themselves, but survived.

Advocate groups including the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), the National Disability Council (NDC), and the Disability Rights and Education Fund are calling for the US Department of Justice to prosecute this crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.  This absolutely makes sense to me. This *was* a hate crime. Not everyone agrees (check out the Comment section on this article at Disability Scoop), but Congress defines “hate crime” as ““criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” And if you want to argue that there wasn’t any bias against people with disabilities involved in Alex’s death, I suggest that you look again. These “angel of mercy” killings, as people like to call them, involve the most fundamental of biases against people with disabilities: the belief that because someone has a disability, those without disabilities can dictate whether his or her life is worth living.

We’ve seen this time and time again. Robert Latimer took Tracey’s life because he didn’t want her to be in pain anymore. He decided that on her behalf that her pain must be too much to bear, and that she’d rather be dead. Would he have done this if Tracey could have walked or talked?  Similarly, Annette Corriveau fought for the right to terminate the lives of her adult children because she wouldn’t have wanted to live the way that they lived – unable to walk or talk, using feeding tubes to eat, relying on others for assistance for all activities of daily living. But that’s an assumption.

What gives people the right to end another person’s life based on the assumption that it has no quality? The fact that the person is disabled, apparently. And it’s Dorothy Spourdalakis’ and Jolanta Skrodzka’s insistence that they had this right that makes  Alex Spourdalakis’ murder a hate crime.

I’ve worked in the field. I know the parents of children with disabilities are under tremendous stress, and that resources are scarce. I also know that families of children with high needs that aren’t disability-related are under a tremendous amount of stress, and that resources are scarce. When parents kill these children, we don’t call them “angels of mercy”. We call them monsters.

I don’t believe that Dorothy Spourdalakis hated her son. But I do believe that this was a hate crime. And I think that we need to take steps, quickly, to figure out how to stop this kind of crime from happening.

Statements from:

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

National Council on Disability

Autism Women’s Network

More on this story:

Author’s Note: Original image on this article was of Ido Keder, due to a Google Image error. Google Image has been informed. I sincerely apologize to Ido and his family, as well as the family of Alex Spourdalakis, for posting Ido’s picture in error here.