When I “googled” my name recently, guess what showed up? To my surprise, there was a link to the first OpEd I had published in The Orlando Sentinel an amazing 15+ years ago now. Not sure why any of the other 10-15 editorials published since then are not online, but this one was. Flashback!
November 01, 1995| Michael S. Beates
Ten years ago Charles Griffith murdered his daughter, Joy. On that issue there is no question.
He brought a gun into the hospital to keep people away as he tried to administer an overdose of valium. He ended up shooting her, but his intent was clear from the beginning: He meant to kill his severely disabled daughter.
It now appears that Griffith may be released next month as his original charges are set aside for the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
The Orlando Sentinel recounted last Friday that many people ”considered his act an understandable ‘mercy killing,’ one deserving of more lenient treatment than other first-degree murders.”
We most clearly express our humanity by how we treat the weakest members of our society – the disabled and the chronically ill. That humanity is best expressed by loving and caring for them and is most threatened when we dispose of them by ”mercy killing.”
The term, itself, is an oxymoron.
Ultimately such acts are selfishly motivated. The person relieved of suffering is not so much the disabled as the able-bodied caregiver, saddled with grief and burdened with tending to a loved one.
Charles Griffith was wrong when he shot Joy. Roswell Gilbert was wrong when he killed his wife afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
A Philadelphia woman also was wrong when she shot her severely disabled son about 10 years ago. And it mocked justice when the court sentenced her only to probation because ”she had suffered enough already.”
When people willfully, knowingly, and intentionally take the life of a disabled or chronically ill person, and the courts require less of them than a ”normal” murderer, we say volumes about how we value the disabled among us.
I am gladdened to hear that Griffith now expresses faith in Christ — as I do — and feels forgiven by God. This does not change, however, the penalty our society has established for those who commit murder.
His daughter, though disabled, was a person who bore in her body and soul the image of God, an image Griffith destroyed.
I speak harshly, I know.
My eldest child, a 13-year-old daughter, is also profoundly disabled, requiring lifelong care. She has suffered much through multiple surgeries and hospitalizations.
Her mother and I, like parents of any hurting child, also suffer deeply when we see her in pain. Life with her is not easy by any measure.
But do I love her? Like my own life.
Have I ever wished she would die? Her life has been so difficult I would lie to say I had not. As Christians, our hope of heaven means death brings great release.
But would I ever kill her to relieve her or me from our suffering? Never.
Life is God’s to give and to take. But if I do kill her, lock me away for my selfish inhumanity.