A Mother Speaks of her Daughter's Pain
Loïse Lavallée's speech at the Ottawa Vigil for Robert Latimer
My name is Loïse Lavallée and I am Éloïse Stone's mother. It's been 10 years since Éloïse's death at the age of 12. I accepted to speak to you today because the similarities between Éloïse and Tracy Latimer are astonishing: both were damaged beyond repair as tiny babies. Éloïse and Tracy endured the same debilitating symptoms of severe cerebral paralysis. They were quadriplegic and therefore incapable of any voluntary movement, unable to walk or move their legs, arms, head; unable to speak; blind to the beauty of the world and the loving faces of those who cared for them; unable to feed themselves; incapable of meeting their basic needs without assistance. Both suffered from uncontrollable epileptic seizures on a daily basis up to 10 times a day if not more and, as if this weren't enough, their intelligence was wounded to the point where until their deaths 12 years later they possessed the mental capacity of four-month old babies.
I accepted to speak to you today because the list of similarities does not end there. Both Éloïse and Tracy had parents who adored them. Like us, Robert and Laura Latimer cared for their daughter Tracy with undying tenderness and love, they accompanied her in her struggles, in her small daily joys and in her suffering. Robert and Laura lived as one with Tracy, day and night, constantly aware of what hurt her, or what could help her and improve her quality of life. They loved and took care of her; they fought for her; they kept her by their side and put her well- being before their own without ever tiring. For 12 long years. How could 12 years of unconditional love have had no effect on Robert Latimer's sentence? Moreover, his devotion and also Laura's, their devotion, their tenderness towards their daughter was well known: parents, friends, neighbours and the medical team all agree that Tracy couldn't have received better care. But the justice system, in its great wisdom, didn't find it necessary to take this into account.
I remember seeing a picture of Tracy in the newspaper. It was the image of a loved child. One could see the light in her eyes, a light that went straight to the heart. It was that love that kept Tracy alive for so long, not all of the barbaric operations she had to endure.
When we learned of the extent of the brain damage to our daughter Éloïse, she was 9 months old. You know, it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that the life of one's child at this point has no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope and contains nothing but suffering. So, at first, we hoped that she would die; that seemed the best way out. But the will to live is strong, and at the beginning Éloïse wanted to live. So we learned how to live with her day by day. Just one day at a time. There is no doubt that Tracy's parents had to do the same. I had even started to hope for any progress however small. I said to myself that with all of the love and care that I was capable of giving to her that Éloïse would get better. But as the years passed, not only did her situation not improve, it got worse. No, there was no progress; only the deterioration of her entire body and a continuous decline in her quality of life.
For 12 years, it was necessary to be constantly energetic, present and vigilant in order to provide her with the bare minimum of comfort. We even accepted the operations that would supposedly improve her quality of life: cutting her gums three times because the anti-convulsive medication had enlarged them; rolling her stomach around her oesophagus and stapling it in order to stop her constant vomiting; wearing an orthopedic support that she detested in order to protect her back, as well prostheses to protect her wrists, and on and on ...But the baby grew into a little girl and then into a big girl. Between the ages of 9 and 11, Éloïse's body grew to a point that she could no longer support, gravity closing it upon itself: scoliosis of the spine, contractions in her joints, dislocation of the hip, one bout of pneumonia after another, breathing that became an exhausting ordeal, relentless convulsions that punctuated each day and caused her atrocious headaches. And the light in her eyes slowly dimmed because she no longer had the strength to go on; she was losing the battle.
And it's at this point that Éloïse's story differs from Tracy's. As parents, we came to the decision, with the support of the medical team, to no longer force Éloïse to continue to live against her will, against nature. There wouldn't be any iron bar in her spine like Tracy was forced to endure; no operation on her hip and pelvis; no force feeding through a tube into her stomach. No, there would be no use of intensive medication which would only prolong her agony and suffering. After these decisions, we continued to look after her and care for her with the necessary medical support until her death, 18 months later.
Éloïse died of pneumonia - at home - in our arms - October 3rd - the day before her thirteenth birthday.
I accepted to speak to you today to tell you that if they had forced Éloïse to undergo further operations against our better judgement and against her will, I am convinced and I hope that I would have had the courage to do what Robert Latimer did. His act was a gesture of exceptional love and compassion. Tonight, I can only offer my humble respect and admiration for his courage.
Robert, you stand tall and proud among us.
Tracy Latimer is at peace and suffers no longer. Her parents did all that was humanly possible for her. It is time for the Latimer family to live in peace. Robert Latimer's place is at home not in prison. Robert Latimer and his family have suffered enough.
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