No Voice for Dead Children

Content Note: Child Murder.
I wrote a piece for CNN about the murder of children with disabilities.

I wrote it because of the media discourse I saw surrounding the death of London McCabe. I wrote it because that framing was not unusual when this kind of murder happens. I wrote it to provide a tool, a pre-made critique, ready to go when another horror broke.

Here’s that next horror.

A mother in England smothered her three disabled children, killing them. The reporting has been heavily focused on the pressures she was under. Here are a few links representative of the larger reporting.

The Telegraph – “The unimaginable sorrow of Tania and Gary Clarence.”

The Daily Mail –  “Court papers reveal ‘unbearable pressure’ put on Tania Clarence” and “Heartbroken banker stands by wife who suffocated their three severely disabled children after being ‘tipped over the edge by social workers and doctors'”

On, Mik Scarlet (in a piece critical of the media discourse), notes the frequency of the words, “mercy killing.” Scarlet also quotes two people with Spinal Muscluar Distrophy 2, the condition that the three children had:

Katherine Araniello, who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the same condition as the Clarence children that died, stated on her Facebook page: “This mother acknowledged and understood what she had done and appears to have planned to kill her children… so my overall feelings on this story are the terrifying moments those poor children had. I can relate to zero physical movement, not being able to wave my arms in protest, let out a scream, defend myself.”

Mark Womersley, who also has SMA type 2, posted a video on Youtube in which he expresses how deeply the case has affected him. He raises his worries about the media portraying the condition as an “infant killer”, even though he has reached the age of 47. He believes the charge of manslaughter did not fit the facts of the case as they came out during the trial. He also raises his fears over the use of the term “mercy killing” during the trial and what it might say for disabled people in the future.

It is not my intention to demonize Tania Clarence or demand that her husband reject her. But the vast majority of the coverage is about Tania. I ask myself, I would like you to ask yourself, “where did the victims go in this narrative?” Who will speak about and for them?

The three children transform in these stories into abstract subjects, the subjects of state intervention (which seems to have been poor indeed in this case), the subjects of parental stress, inert objects to be smothered beneath a pillow, silenced forever, and then written out of the story. It’s Tania’s story, it’s about her, her pressures, her (genuine) mental health issues, her marriage, her husband’s reaction, the court’s mercy in charging only with manslaughter, it’s all about her.

And it’s not that her story doesn’t matter.

It’s that her children deserve their story too, and they deserve it first, and loudest.

This is going to happen again. Probably soon. Be ready to demand that we tell the victims’ story.

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