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Compassionate Murder

Compassionate Murder

When a father cannot stand the suffering of his daughter and kills her, who benefits by his action?


Reported in the "New York Times," Nov. 22, 1994

and "National Public Radio," June 7, 1996:

A Canadian farmer was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his disabled daughter, causing debate among Canadians about mercy killing.
Tracy Latimer, age 12, was in near-constant pain since birth due to severe cerebral palsy. She never learned to walk, talk, feed herself, or even sit up. She suffered from daily seizures and frequent vomiting. As her illness progressed her muscles were constantly dislocating her limbs, twisting her spine like a pretzel. Her pelvis was contorted and her hip had been dislodged for a year. Tracey's parents, Robert and Laura Latimer were involved in constant 24-hour care.
With the feeling that he was doing what was right, Mr. Latimer put his daughter into the cab of a pickup truck on the family farm and piped exhaust fumes into it.
He told the police that he was ready to stop the engine if she started crying, but she fell quietly to sleep. "My priority was to put her out of her pain," he said. The Latimers were known as especially loving and attentive parents to their daughter during her brief lifetime.


Was the farmer keeping within the definition of "parental caretaker"?

Assuming self-defense is not involved, should any act of intentionally taking the life of another be regarded as murder, regardless of the motive?

Should the loving, tender care that the farmer gave his daughter over a period of 12 burdensome years be considered?

Does the cost of maintaining this severely disabled girl justify the farmer's action?

Was second degree murder a fair conviction? Should the court have been stricter? More lenient?

Would the case be different if it involved an adult patient who begged for a lethal dose of medicine to take her out of her misery?


Susan ( wrote:

A person in the fourth level of Alzheimer's has nearly no episodes of clarity. A person in the last stages of terminal cancer who is living day-to-day in a morphine stupor and nightmare of pain has absolutely no hope in sight. Under these circumstances, I would want the choice. wrote:

Apart from capital punishment or self-defense, no one can take the life of another person. Although it seems sensible or right in our human eyes to take the life of a person who is suffering, God, who knows everything, and who sees the end from the beginning, is allowing this suffering for some reason we cannot comprehend. To take someone's life -- or our own -- is to say that we know more than God, and to interfere with His plan.

When people kill others using the mercy excuse, it is because they can't stand the pain of seeing others so afflicted.

Kathryn wrote:

When people kill others using the excuse of mercy, it is because the killers cannot stand the pain of seeing that they have so much, and others are so afflicted.


The only time there is no hope of someone's life improving is when they are already dead. Then it is too late. As long as a person is alive, it is impossible to predict what will happen. How will Tracy Latimer's father feel if some cure or effective treatment for cerebral palsy is found -- and she would have been able to live with less suffering (had he not killed her)?

Chia Rivka wrote:

When God has decided that our time on earth is up, why should we prolong the suffering? Legally, a doctor should make our exit as painless as possible so our family need not suffer either.

Vicki wrote:

I cared for my father when he was dying. Often in his pain and agony he would beg for more pain medication. Working closely with the doctor and hospice care, I knew if I gave him that one extra pill or two or whatever, I would in effect, kill him. It was a painful situation watching one's parent die before your eyes.I don't think I could have lived with myself if I had given my father that extra pill. I couldn't go through life knowing that I had murdered someone.


Murder is one of Judaism's three cardinal sins. Biblical references prohibiting murder are numerous:

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." (Genesis 9:6)
"Thou shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13)
"If a man shall act intentionally upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile, from My altar shall you take him to die." (Exodus 21:14)
"And a man - if he strikes mortally any human life, shall surely be put to death." (Leviticus 24:17)
"One who kills a person shall be put to death." (Leviticus 24:21)
"Whoever kills any person, the murderer shall be executed through the testimony of witnesses." (Numbers 35:30)


Rabbi Tzvi Meklenberg (19th century Europe) writes in Haktav vi-Hakaballah:

The seemingly repetitive nature of the verse in Genesis 9:5: "From the hand of every man; from the hand of every man who is his brother will I demand the life of man," refers to two types of murder:

1) to the detriment of the victim ("from the hand of every man"), such as for revenge, money, etc.
2) for the benefit of the victim ("from the hand of every man who is his brother"), when he is in great pain and would rather die than live.
The Torah does not differentiate based on motive and reasons.

By referring to the two ways in which one person might take another's life, the Torah does not differentiate based on motive and reasons. Both are equally prohibited.

It is forbidden to cause the dying to die quickly, such as one who is moribund over a long time and cannot die, it is forbidden to move him so that he may die.But if there is something that delays his death, such as a nearby woodchopper making a noise, or there is salt on his tongue, and these prevent his speedy death, one can remove them, for this does not involve any action at all, but rather the removal of the preventive agent. (Rabbi Moses Isserles - Code of Jewish Law YD 339:1)

The jury's decision to convict the Canadian farmer of murder is consistent with Jewish law.

The only situation in which one is allowed to kill another person is when the other is a potential murderer, whereby such killing one might save one's own life or the life of another innocent person.

The Torah defines this potential murderer as a rodef (pursuer), and therefore he forfeits his life. But killing someone who is not a threat to the life of another is ... murder.

DISCLAIMER: This module discusses sources for the purpose of education. Any real-life situation must be discussed with a rabbi, well-versed in Jewish law.

January 26, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Andrew, December 9, 2007 10:41 PM

I think that there's something to be said here for ending a loved one's suffering out of compassion. If your loved one had a terminal condition and was in constant pain, would you watch them suffer until the end?

I would honestly ask my family to stop my suffering through painless Morphine, and would do the same for them in a heartbeat. We go through so much on this Earth, and while we have had experiences both good and bad, would you really want to end your journey in constant suffering? Drawn-out torture, feeling it in every part of your body every minute of the day and all the drugs in the world can't dull the pain... The doctors telling you this could last weeks... What would you want to do?

I believe that Robert Latimer did this out of the kindness of his heart, out of love for his daughter. I can hardly imagine how he must have felt after seeing her suffer over twelve years, her seizures ripping herself apart, no control or thoughts or will of her own. I would do the same in his position.

And yes, there is the idea of convenience that shows up because he would no longer have to take care of her. But that's a cynical observation from an outsider, nothing more. He will have to live with his pain for the rest of his life, and probably just wants to go home to his wife to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

Baxter, June 14, 2012 7:43 PM

Was it his daughter's will of wanting to die?

For this case, Mr Robert Latimer would also have to live for the rest of his life with the painful visions of taking the life of his beloved daughter by himself, despite knowing that he had made the decision then out of his love for his daughter. But if his daughter does not want to die despite her sufferings, then it would be killing to end the sight of someone's suffering, ie: my OWN suffering.

(4) val, December 1, 2004 12:00 AM

right now i am doing an essay report on Robert Latimer's case. i find this case very interesting. i think was it an act of compassion? or an selfish act for himself? i do not think anyone can comment on his case because we never walked in his footsteps to actually live his life with her. i would say it was both. an act of compassion because he stated that "My priority was to put her out of her pain" but maybe also a selfish act because he might of not wanted to take care of her anymore. Tracy did not have a say in anything concerning her death, so i do not believe that Robert Latimer had a right to kill her.

(3) Celia Xu, November 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Excellent opinions. I am taking a business ethics at BCIT. In class we discussed the Tracy and Latimer case. That's why I'd like to hear different people's opinions on this case. I'd ike to receive more information about this case. Thank you very much.

(2) Anonymous, November 23, 2002 12:00 AM

Should a man say to his brother, I shall end your suffering?

If a man should say to his brother, behold I see your suffering and I shall end it, does he aid his brother in taking away all trials that may surround him. If he says, here brother, I see your pain, may I give you the sweet gift of death, then how much more benifit is he giving him than if his brother had survived the trial and became stronger. If a man says to his brother, I know your pain and I wish to end it, what is more tempting to a sufferer than to end his suffering, and yet to end it would be to deprive this person of something that they were meant to discover through this trial. Trial can bring strength and insight to the bearer, and of this no man should be deprived.

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