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San Diego mother pleads guilty in the drowning murder of her autistic son

Posted Dec 28 2012 11:10pm

Channel 10 news in San Diego reports Patricia Corby, woman accused in autistic son’s death, pleads guilty to murder charges , Corby faces sentence of 15 years to life.

The story begins

SAN DIEGO – A woman who drowned her 4-year-old autistic son in a bathtub, then drove his lifeless body to a police substation where she admitted the crime, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder.

Patricia Corby, 37, sobbed as she admitted killing her son, Daniel, last March 31.

The mother reportedly drowned her 4 year old son, attempted to drown herself and then drove to the police department to turn herself in.

As an aside: such events as these bother me a great deal. I have a great deal of difficulty discussing these stories and I resort to a rather clinical approach in my writing.

In a previous story it was reported that when she turned herself in:

…she told police that the boy was autistic and that she didn’t believe he would have a life or a future without her, so she decided to kill him, the prosecutor said.

Multiple sources are reporting that the the family had spent a large sum on therapy, implying that financial stress played into the decision to murder her son. This sort of inference is often a source of much controversy for, among other reasons, playing into the “autistic as burden” discussion.  Also statements about the family’s debt are taken by some as an attempt to partially justify the murder.

Ironically, in most murder cases a financial incentive is seen as adding guilt to the crime. However, when a parent murders a disabled child, the financial incentive seems to be used to reduce guilt.

Not mentioned is the discussion of finances is that the murder happened just a few months before California law changed making autism therapies much easier to obtain through insurance. The family was reported to have a history of employment problems, but the father was employed at the time of the murder and may have had medical benefits.

Comments in online stories range from “I would have taken the child in” to “don’t judge the mother unless you have walked in her shoes” to comments that seem to emanate from a modern-day Ebeneezer Scrooge.

As an aside, it is my personal opinion that the “you haven’t walked in his/her shoes” discussion point is beyond meaningless. Consider a term that is often discussed in the context of autism: empathy .

Empathy is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.

Somehow we are not supposed to be capable of empathy where it applies to being critical of the mother’s actions, but we are supposed to be capable of empathy in considering offering the mother sympathy.

Another term that comes up often in autism discussions is “balance”. As in “that news story needed to give both sides to show ‘balance’ “. Usually this is in regards to some totally unscientific or disproven idea about autism. News stories about parents murdering their autistic children almost never give balance in regards to presenting any one of  the hundreds of thousands of stories where parents don’t murder their autistic children. Stories of how it is difficult, but does not warrant murder.  How the norm for those of us who have “walked in her shoes” is to keep walking, not to commit murder.  There is no balance in the form of autistic voices, except in the comments to no online stories. Comments that are often met with a “you haven’t walked in her shoes” reply.

Some question why so many parents actively shun the “pity politics” of autism, where real difficulties and challenges for our children and ourselves are colored by language of hopelessness and despair. Among the many excellent reasons I would include  the desire to not encourage the sort of despair that Patricia Corby felt.

Discussions of these types of events are very difficult for many reasons. Not the least of which is being respectful to the family. I wish the father and the family well in this difficult time and apologize for intruding in this tragedy.


By Matt Carey


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