Monday, January 28, 2008

"Don't judge harshly because you/your people can one day be in the same shoes"

Left: Katherine "Katie" McCarron, copied from Not Dead Yet, originally supplied by her family. Right: her mother and murderer Karen McCarron, copied from HoiNews, original source unknown.
About a week ago, I had an argument with a relative about the Mideast conflict. It naturally brought me to saying that Palestinians were such and such (let's not repeat adjectives unnecessarily, I have explained my opinion in detail in the post Mideast Conflict: The Dire Consequences of a "Deadly and Disgusting Bias").
Then, my relative replied, "The same things you are saying about the Palestinians have been said by (West-) Europeans about our Bulgarian revolutionaries in Macedonia."
Well, I know that some of these revolutionaries, while not doing quite the same things as today's Palestinians, weren't the sort of person you want for your son in-law, either. The best example perhaps is Yane (Jane) Sandanski (1872 - 1915). He has been unduly euphemized by historians (see e.g. his Wikipedia page) and today has a resort town named after him. Consider, however, how he raised funds for his cause: "In 1902 Yane Sandanski, together with some of his companions, kidnapped the Protestant missionary Ellen Stone and exacted ransom of 14 500 TRL for her, which initiated the so-called Miss Stone Affair. Despite the persecutions, they managed to take the ransom and use it for weapons, which were needed for the revolutionary struggle. Miss Stone was released and later she read lectures for the Macedonian cause in America" (source: BGglobe).
I have read details about this kidnapping in For Freedom and Perfection, a sympathetic biography of Yane Sandanski by Mercia MacDermott. Miss Stone had a pregnant companion (her name was Tsilka, if I remember correctly). The kidnappers seized her together with her mistress and didn't release her despite her pregnancy advancing to term. She gave birth literally in Stone Age conditions, in a cave, with only Miss Stone to help. It was sheer luck that she and the baby survived and did well. So I have no kind thoughts and words for Sandanski and his gang of terrorists, no matter how Bulgarian they were and what noble causes they claimed.
The Scripture says, "Judge Not Lest You Be Judged". We have a proverb with a similar meaning, "Laugh only at a priest, because you will never become one." It is true that we shouldn't indulge in excessive and hypocritical judgement of others. But this doesn't mean that we must never judge anybody in order to avoid being judged ourselves. Would you like a society where everybody would let others do as they please in order to enjoy the same "freedom"? I think that we not only can but should demand others to keep some norms - and of course apply the same norms to ourselves, our families and our community.
This reminds me of an event that was the central subject at Autism Hub ten days ago. On Jan. 17, Illinois physician Karen McCarron was convicted of first-degree murder of her 3-year-old daughter Katherine "Katie" McCarron (see above photos). Karen had smothered the little girl to death with a plastic bag. The motive: Katie was autistic.
Society showed mixed reaction to the murder and the verdict. Some people, notably disability advocates and parents, strongly condemned Karen McCarron. However, as Wikipedia puts it, "news articles and weblogs have emphasized the difficulties in raising a child with autism, and some suggested that McCarron may have been stressed by lack of support and dealing with Katie's autism." In fact, Karen had no reason to be stressed so much, because she hadn't even cared for her daughter after the diagnosis. As you can read in the same article, Katie had been taken by her father Paul to North Carolina, where the educational opportunities for autistic children were better, and was reunited with her mother only ten days prior to the murder. Paradoxically, the fact that Karen had been free from care was also used by some to exonerate her. Quoting the HoiNews article from where I copied the photo: "Authorities are not commenting as to her motive, but people who know Karen McCarron said the challenges with autism can be too much to handle... Her husband took Katherine to North Carolina, Karen stayed with their other child at their home in Morton. “And that had to be overwhelming in itself, because now your support's not there, you're both separated, you know... she was an excellent mother and she was out there to help her daughter the best that she could,” (therapist and autism mother) Floyd said." (However, see also the outraged comments to this article by parents of both special-needs and typical children.)
Blogger "Doubting Thomas" touches another aspect and so brings McCarron's case to the subject of this post. He writes, "Prosecution attorneys say she was mentally stable. However, they are attorneys, and not doctors, and should not diagnose on the fly. She also just killed her daughter. How stable is that?... But here is the big money question, and ultimately, my point: Do any of you realize that **your autistic child** could be in the same position as Karen McCarron someday?"
Eh well, every murderer, with or without a disability, has parents. And I am sure that in quite many cases they have been good parents. We know well "where children come from", but we do not know, and never will, where their souls come from. I pity Karen McCarron's parents. However, we cannot keep our pockets filled with excuses for all sort of criminals, just in case some of our children happen to become criminals when they grow up.
In a sense, every murderer is "not normal". I always wonder when I watch on Discovery channel programs about how murderers' brains have different wave patterns and their attorneys use this to demand a lighter sentence. I mean, why is a murderer's brain expected to be exactly like a non-murderer's brain? However, from this "difference" there is a long way to "mental illness" pronounced enough to account for a lighter sentence. And unlike Thomas, I don't think McCarron (who had no previous diagnosis) qualified for "guilty but mentally ill" verdict. People like her are so dangerously close to us, to "good normal" people. Had Katie happened to be a typical child, nobody would ever know about the monster hidden inside her mom.
Our civilization has reached a stage when diseases, disabilities, accidents and wars are a rare exception, rather than rule of life, as they have been in previous centuries. However, this has had the unpleasant effect of making us intolerant to everything depriving our lives of the comfort we feel entitled to. Have a non-perfect child? - Get rid of him. We want perfect children only. As autistic blogger Joel Smith put it, "Being a parent of an autistic child gives you a special right: a “Get Out of Love Free” card."
In a society where so many people can blame a disabled child for her own murder (just read some of the above quotes), too many parents may be tempted to follow Karen McCarron's footsteps. This, to my opinion, gives "high degree of public danger" to her crime. The concern that we, or somebody of our circle, may some day be in a criminal's shoes should not be a reason for lenience. On the contrary, in such cases the sentence must serve to ward off future similar crimes by scaring potential criminals. I think the jurors have done their job well and while nothing can bring Katie back to life, their verdict has likely saved the lives of some other children.

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