Thursday, December 15, 2005

Home Front 16 December 2005

One of the most confusing aspects of the latest “Honey, I killed the kid” case in which a distressed ex-soldier suffocated his disabled son, is the judge’s chain of logic, in particular her definition of what makes a “mitigating circumstance”.

So-called mercy killing is illegal in this country. It always has been. So why did Mrs Justice Rafferty tell the court that Andrew Wragg’s act had not been a mercy killing, but in explaining her reasons for the accused’s suspended sentence add that “you did not do it for her [his wife] or for yourself, but for him”?

If Wragg, as the judge infers, had a “belief that what you did was an act of mercy”, how could this have been a mitigating factor unless mercy killing were in fact legal? Was the judge telling us that mercy killing is, in the minds of judges as well as of confused and stressed parents, really legal after all?

And what about the evidence that Wragg had been drinking heavily before the deed was done? If being drunk is a mitigating circumstance, why can drivers not use it if they knock a pedestrian over? “Sorry, your Honour, but I was drunk.” “Drunk! But my dear fellow that changes everything – you should have told us sooner!”

Lastly we come to the “mitigating circumstance” of the boy’s incurable illness, Hunter’s Syndrome, which kills most children by the time they are 14. I can only dimly guess at the grief the Wraggs must have experienced on learning that Jacob had this condition – and also the grief they must have felt on learning that a previous baby carried it too. That baby was aborted, very late, on medical advice.

If we are to look for mitigating circumstances in this case, surely this is the place to look: the moment when pressure from the medical establishment forced the couple to agree to the death of their unborn child. Was it at this point that Wragg’s personal Rubicon was crossed?

It is a mark of how muddled we all are about death, murder and killing that this unhappy family should have had to endure not one, but two trials. And the judge’s final words were particularly alarming when seen in conjunction with another case three months ago – that of a widow in her sixties who killed her adult Down’s Syndrome son, who was also autistic.

As soon as a judge sent Wendolyn Markcrow home on bail, there was an avalanche of kindly sympathy for her situation. Nothing wrong with sympathy - what worries me is the national confusion between understanding how someone can have committed a crime, and letting them off. Because so many people lack any religious framework for their ethical thinking, the difference between examining why a person committed an evil deed, and deciding that the deed was not evil after all, is becoming completely obscured.

Lynnette Burrows, the doughty Catholic campaigner for parents’ rights, is in trouble for voicing the opinion that to allow a gay male couple to adopt a boy would be to put the child at the same kind of risk as if pair of heterosexual men were allowed to adopt a young girl.

The very next day, a police officer called to inform Lynnette that a “homophobic incident” had been reported. Creepiest of all is the language the police officer used: “She told me it was not a crime, but she had to record these incidents,” said Lynnette later.

I do not agree with Lynnette on many issues, but it strikes me that on this occasion her comments were fair enough. In a home run by a married heterosexual couple, you have a balance of sexual identity. Psychiatrists tell us that as children grow up, cross-generational sexual signals start flying about.

Most of us are hardly aware of them, because in a normal family each parent’s presence acts as a check on the other, and those cross-generational signals just die on the wind. But in a home run by a same-sex couple, that balance does not exist.

Besides, if Lynnette’s comments were homophobic, they must have been heterophobic as well. So why weren’t the editors of Loaded and Nuts on the phone to the police, complaining that Lynnette had impugned the impeachable respectability of their readership?