Disabled people have for many years watched a pattern emerging in disability deaths. A parent kills their disabled child. (The “child” may be an adult.) These murders are portrayed in the media and elsewhere as a justifiable and an almost inevitable result of the “burden” of having a disabled person in the family. These deaths are frequently framed euphemistically as “mercy killing”.
Usually the parent is offered public sympathy. If they stand trial, they are treated with leniency. Even if convicted, usually of a lesser crime than murder, they rarely serve jail time.
The victims are relegated to the margins of the crime, even blamed for their own murder and soon forgotten. Each instance reinforces the narrative that disability is so terrible that parents are driven by it to kill their own children to lessen their suffering.
But these disabled people have died at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust the most, someone who ought to have protected them from harm, someone with a recognised responsibility in law to do just that.
On Tuesday, March 1st, the disability community will gather in several countries to remember disabled victims of filicide–disabled people murdered by their family members or caregivers. They are joining together to mourn the lives lost to domestic violence and murder, to bring the deaths into the public consciousness as a human rights issue.
In the same way as for everyone else, domestic violence towards disabled people is not OK. Disabled people killed by their families are entitled to justice and equal protection under the law. Formal reporting of disability domestic violence deaths along with other domestic violence deaths by the Family Violence Death Review Committee, and inclusion of disabled people in domestic violence services and campaigns are all necessary immediately.
Our project, The New Zealand Disability Clothesline, is compiling a list of the deaths we know about that are in the public arena with the names of murdered disabled people.
The New Zealand and Australian clothesline projects, campaigning projects against violence and abuse towards disabled people, are joining the vigil to mourn the lives of murdered disabled people this year on March 1 with an online vigil. You can join in our Disability Killings vigil-Trans Tasman Day of Mourning on Facebook.