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A few weeks ago when wrapping up the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, I referred to a court case in France involving a man who had murdered his six-year old daughter.

Johana Carneiro was a tetraplaegic who had Down’s Syndrome. She was also an epileptic. She had to be helped with every aspect of her life. The father, Americo Carneiro, formerly of Portugal, is a 44-year old stonemason. Mrs Carneiro is bipolar and, according to her husband, spends most of her days on the sofa. She has also been treated in psychiatric hospitals for her condition.

Consequently, Mr Carneiro himself became severely depressed, seeking refuge in psychotropes and alcohol. By the time he put his hand over his daughter’s mouth whilst she slept on January 3, 2011 in Boulancourt (Seine-et-Marne), the court determined that he had lost aspects of his rational judgment.

During his trial, Carneiro described his daughter as ‘smiling’, ‘cheerful’ and ‘making progress’ in the special school where she went when he was at work. Carneiro said he took desperate measures because he worried for her future should anything happen to him.

Carneiro was so depressed that his original plan was to murder his daughter, then his wife. He intended to commit suicide. He had already transferred €10,000 to his mother’s bank account to cover the cost of their funerals. He testified that he lost the courage to do away with his wife and himself.

Carneiro’s barristers and the judges found this an extremely difficult case. Psychiatrists testified that he was a loving father but emotionally ‘spent’.

Counsel and judges used the following principles to arrive at a suspended sentence of five years in prison. The sentence had to reflect that Carneiro:

1/ Deeply regretted what he did and was severely depressed.

2/ Had no right to take his daughter’s life, even if she was disabled and had Down’s Syndrome.

3/ Had an extreme combination of extenuating circumstances weighing upon him as the head of his family.

Therefore, they determined that his sentence needed to reflect that he acted wrongly whilst at the same time showing the court had compassion for him in his suffering.

It seems another person would have gone to the school early on to ask the specialists for help. Surely, he couldn’t be the only such parent in France needing a lot of support in his situation.

It is not unheard of for mothers of a Down’s Syndrome child to become severly depressed. I knew a lady who spent most days lying in bed. She was on antidepressants. Although she was a nurse before she married and had a family — she had several other healthy children — deep down she felt responsible for her child being born the way he was. They put the boy in a dedicated home for Down’s Syndrome sufferers where he could receive the care he needed. She and her husband — a physician — were practising Catholics. Despite his unpredictable work schedule, he kept the family together on a daily basis, including preparing supper when the children were younger.

Therefore, I do not know why some families fare better than others in this respect. It seems that age, education and money are no barrier to severe depression following the birth of a disabled child. If you have any experience with these situations, please feel free to comment below.

As for the Parlympians and participants in America’s Special Olympics, I am grateful that their parents helped them to thrive despite all odds.

To conclude on this subject, I read the comments following the Carneiro case and was appalled at how many said it was right for the father to murder his daughter because of her severe disabilities. I also know several people who believe that if pregnancy scans discover such a foetus, the mother should have an abortion. Sadly, eugenics is not dead.

A few days after the Carneiro verdict, I read an article on the Episcopal site Stand Firm about a Chinese man who carries his disabled son to and from school every day. It is an 18-mile round trip. The Daily Mail reported on the family. The father said (emphases mine):

‘I have carried him there and back now since last September, every morning I get up at 5am to prepare a lunch for him to eat and then I walk the four-and-a-half miles to the school, and then come back here so I can work to earn money. I then walk back to the school to pick up my son and bring him home.’

He said that he estimates he has walked around 1,600 miles up and down hills backwards and forwards since he started counting: ‘My son with his disabilities is not in a position to walk on his own and it also means that he can’t ride a bike. Despite being 12 he’s just 90 cm tall. But I am proud of the fact that he is already top of his class and I know he will achieve great things. My dream is that he will go to college.’

As Stand Firm’s Sarah Hey says:

So many things run through my head when I read a story like this.

I think I’ve got problems?  I need to think again.

People are really desperate and will do desperate things—some good, some bad. I have so much respect for this man—he does what he must.

How much this man must love his son, as disabled as he is. He has such hopes for him. Such faith. As much as he loves his son, God loves us even more. He is willing to go to immense lengths for us, not merely one time through death on the cross, but every single day in a variety of ways.

I wish the Carneiro family had had a different outcome. Nonetheless, as several French commenters and legal experts have said, Mr Carneiro will have his late daughter on his mind more often than not.

May we remember parents and families of disabled children in our prayers as well as the children themselves. May all be guided by His divine grace.

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First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

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