Sunday, April 15, 2007

For The Term Of His Valuable Life

A Sydney couple were released on good behaviour bonds after pleading guilty to manslaughter of their disabled son, Matthew Sutton. Born without eyes, part of his face missing, nervous system and heart defects, and severely intellectually disabled, he was not expected to live beyond a few weeks. However Matthew survived to the age of 28 years old.
According to The West Australian newspaper (5th April, 07) "Even though he had serious medical problems and several operations, he reached a mental age of about four and despite limited hearing, found some joy in music. But life was a trial. He banged his head and became violent when frustrated. The court was told he also suffered at the hands of other patients when his parents, unable to care for him at home, put him into professional care."

Matthew's mother told the court he would have nothing else if he didn't have music. "How could we subject our precious son to what was ahead?" The day before Matthew was to have undergone surgery that may have robbed him of his hearing and sense of taste, his parents sedated and killed him.

According to The Australian Justice Barr said "The Suttons, who suffered from depression and stress, were affected by an "abnormality of mind" at the time of Matthew's death". He is further quoted in The West Australian newspaper that the crime was committed "out of love and labouring under an inability to properly reason".

And there was more... NSW Council on Intellectual Disability executive officer Helena O'Connell declared it "a sad day for people with intellectual disabilities". "The system let the family down, (but) the person had the potential for a valuable life," she said.

I am baffled. In what way was this merciful, selfless and considered action an act of madness and irrationality? And would Ms O'Connell please elaborate on that "potential for a valuable life" she foresaw for Matthew?

Please note: I am not necessarily endorsing "potential for a valuable life" as a prerequisite to let live. In that case I might be the first against the wall.


  1. It was murder. Simple murder.
    OK, in this case, it APPEARS to be a "mercy killing". But once you start applauding people who kill their sick children, what sort of message are you giving? Your kid is broke, so throw it away?
    "My kid is blind and deaf and paralysed - his IQ is low - so he'd be better off dead."
    "My kid is blind and deaf - his IQ is low - so he'd be better off dead."
    "My kid is blind and his IQ is low - so he'd be better off dead."
    "My kid has a low IQ so he'd be better off dead."
    Where does it stop? In your opinion, what level of disability should a kid have to justify murdering it?
    There are already sever cases each year of parents killing their disabled children because they believe the child is "better off dead"; usually the disability is actually fairly mild - autism, for example. Please don't encourage any more killings.

  2. The "kid" was 28, for heaven's sake. He had a mental age of 4 and the last remaining contact with the world and his last pleasure was being taken off him. He had exhausted two good adult people, who cared for him for 28 years. They deserve Hero Medals.
    He was also running out of time to be a useful person as the Interstate disability spokesperson so glibly claimed he would.

  3. I agree Anonymous, it was murder. But I am not encouraging parents to do in "broke kids". What I object to were the statements. Perhaps the judge dubbed it "inability to properly reason" to go light on the parents. Maybe the disability spokesperson was point scoring for political purposes.

    For reasons, such as you eloquently put, we do not permit mercy killing in Australia. Occasionally there are babies born with extreme defects, who then die naturally soon after birth. If such a person, with massive abnormalities, survives but has virtually no mode of social interaction and has painful conditions, he must suffer. I don't see suffering as cause to rejoice.

    For the sake of the kind of society we may wish to perpetuate, and in fear of a Nazi-style nightmare, desperate medical conditions are protected by law - once beyond the gates of the womb. Fair enough. But in this particular case I would have preferred honesty. Let the judge say Matthew had endured a profoundly difficult life, and it was likely to become a wretched one, but it was unlawful to relieve him of it. However bleak he must sit it out, in the cause of his right to be and the sake of our humanity. No need to invoke parental insanity.

    Likewise, the disability officer could stick to saying she regretted the suboptimal services that did not protect Matthew from other inmates when he was in care. She may even have shunted more funding in that direction. There was no need to pontificate on the loss of a glowing future.


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