Monday, May 22, 2006

A PLEA FOR RESTRAINT

Up to now, I have refrained from posting anything about the tragic death of Katherine McCarron. My reticence stems partly from a feeling of respect for a family’s grieving, but more from a complete lack of understanding about what could compel someone, who by all accounts was a devoted mother, to take the life of a beloved child.

There have been many comments made in various places about the mental state of the mother, but that does not begin to provide an answer about her moral culpability, or lack thereof.

As a very general statement, I think the McNaughton rule, recognized by most American jurisdictions in determining sanity as an exculpatory defense, stands as one of the rare instances in which law and morality actually match up. The test is whether an alleged perpetrator could appreciate the distinction between “right” and “wrong” at the time of an otherwise criminal event. That test is not satisfied if the defendant was unaware of a specific law, or if the defendant felt a mere moral justification. Rather, the rule tests whether the specific individual was intellectually, mentally, and emotionally capable of understanding that the ethics and mores of society hold the act to be wrong. My personal feeling has always been that any person who is capable of that understanding is under a moral obligation to seek help if he/she feels that he/she may have difficulty controlling an immoral or illegal impulse.

As I write this post, the only information we have concerning the mother’s mental state comes from press reports and internet hearsay. That is not enough for me to state any kind of opinion about culpability, although I have to admit that my initial reaction to this event would make me a poor candidate to be a juror, at least from the defense standpoint. Even knowing that a “not guilty” verdict would not be equivalent to forgiving, I would simply have too hard a time not wanting to see some punishment for the death of a defenseless child. That is my bias.

Recognizing bias when discussing something this horrifying is important. The reason I’m writing about this now is an announcement from the moderator of the Autism Hub, concerning a group effort concerning the tragedy. For those who may unfamiliar with the Autism Hub, it is a group of bloggers who wish to uphold the dignity of autistic individuals (hard to argue with that), but who generally do not believe in seeking a cure for autism (which, of course, leaves me out). Despite some differences on the issue of appropriate interventions, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for many of the bloggers on the Hub, and I consider some of them to be good friends. But I do have concerns about this undertaking. This is how Kev Leitch announced the upcoming event:
Katherine McCarron was murdered by her mother on May 13th this year. Katherine was three years old. She was also autistic.

On Wed this week, some Autism Hub members will be posting about this murder and about Katherine.

On Thursday this week, Autism Hub will be ‘shut’ for 24 hours as a mark of respect for Katherine. No posts will be collected and no feeds will work.

Using the word “murder” displays an inclination to prejudge the mother’s guilt, which I can understand to some extent given my admitted tendency to do the same. But I am more concerned that the understandable anger in some of the tributes may be misdirected toward extraneous and irrelevant agendas. To clarify, that possibility for misdirection exists both for any given blogger and for any reader who chooses to leave a comment to one of the posts. I can only hope that the focus will remain on the senselessness of this tragedy, which we can all agree on, without using this child to make a point having nothing to do with her life or death.

I have no right to dictate the actions of anybody, so simply consider this a plea for restraint from a friend. A child is dead because she was unable to defend herself from the one person she should have been able to trust more than anyone. She cannot defend herself from being used by any of us to further our various causes. Let the blogging be respectful and sensitive, particularly to a man who has certainly lost his precious daughter, and who also may have lost his wife as well.

Rather than invite preemptive nastiness by anybody, I will take the unusual (for me at least) step of closing the comments to this post.

Rest in peace, Katie.

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