Friday, March 14, 2014
Erika Wigstrom murdered her 17 month old son Lucas Ruiz. The coroner report identified the cause of death as “acute ethanol intoxication”—-the active chemical in hand sanitizer. According to various news reports Wigstrom confessed to murdering her child after he arrest. She told the police she killed her son Lucas because she did not want him to suffer. Lucas was born with Down Syndrome. According to police she has shown no remorse. In fact she confessed to a previous attempt of poisoning. It is not clear if the previous poisoning was done by Wigstrom or Cesar Ruiz, the boy’s father. Wigstrom is being held without bond. She has been charged with first degree murder. Prosecutors have not established if they will seek the death penalty. According to police reports Wigstrom injected Germ X hand sanitizer into her son’s feeding tube. The blood-alcohol level at the time of death was 0.280, four time the legal limit for an adult to drive. The child’s father is facing a second degree cruelty to a juvenile charge. When Lucas was two months old and about to have surgery to correct a heart defect he is accused of giving his son rum via his feeding tube (Lucas blood-alcohol level was 0.289). The alcohol caused seizures and surgery was cancelled. There is confusion over exactly what took place. Lucas parents have told conflicting stories. The father has admitted to giving his son rum via the feeding tube in an effort to relieve his pain. The mother has admitted to putting hand sanitizer and perfume oil into her son’s feeding tube.
The death of Lucas Ruiz is a social tragedy. It is a social failure because the system failed to protect a defenseless infant from his own parents. Lucas Ruiz parents poisoned him not just once but twice. I am sure a full and extended investigation will take place. The investigation will not help Lucas Ruiz and I seriously doubt it will prevent future horrific cases of child abuse and murder. This is a grim assessment but we are living in grim times—grim times if you are the parents of a child with a disability or a person with a disability. Social supports for people with a disability are cut to the bone. The social safety net is in tatters. Nation wide people with a disability are struggling. Access to good health care, mass transportation, accessible housing, equal educational opportunities, and employment remain daunting challenges. This however is not how the story of Lucas Ruiz death will be framed. Sensational headlines and lurid details already dominate early news reports. The media spin has begun.
Wigstrom according to the police has shown no remorse. No remorse! How could a mother show no remorse? She must be evil—the essence of the heart of darkness. But wait! Wigstrom characterized her son’s death as a mercy killing. She did not want her son to suffer anymore. Lucas Ruiz’s father told police he believed his son would be better of dead. He had hoped his son would die before or during the scheduled heart surgery. Wigstrom’s Facebook page contains a video that shows her next to her son’s coffin and the statement “I have no more tears to shed because my kid is so cool God wanted him. I mean, if any body is lucky it’s me for being his mom. I’m not going to cry”. The press has bought into emotion rather than reason. The most disturbing aspect of this is that it works. Wigstrom was on television and told a terrible story about about how she held her son while he had seizures but things took a turn for the worse. Again, the focus is on emotion. No one wants to see their child suffer. Disability is about pain and suffering. No one wants a disability much less a disability that causes nothing but pain and suffering. This simplistic assessment is shockingly resistant to change. Of course no one wants a disability. In fact, I often darkly remark I do not recommend the experience of being paralyzed. I am also quick to note I do not physically suffer. Like the vast majority of people with a disability we simply adapt to bodily difference. I use a wheelchair. Blind people use a white cane or guide dog. Deaf people learn to sign. People with Autism use alternate means of communication. The list of disabilities is long as is the list of adaptations. It is really ordinary stuff. We are an adaptive animal. Evolutionary theory demonstrates this quite well.
I am not suggesting people with a disability do not suffer. We do. So do people without a disability. All humans in fact will suffer at some point in their life. What is different for people with a disability is the fact we are expected to suffer. We are supposed to lower our expectations. We are expected to live lesser lives. Our lives are diminished because of our disability. This line of reasoning is common place and deadly. Thus when I read about Lucas Ruiz death I thought of March 1st. March 1st when people nationwide gather in remembrance. On March 1st we remember and honor those with a disability that were killed. Some, like Lucas Ruiz, are killed by their own parents. In the last five years over 40 people with a disability have been killed by the parents. Other people with a disability are killed by a sibling or care giver. For the last three years ASAN, ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, National Council on Independent Living, and the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund have held vigils. These vigils get very little press outside of the disability rights community. I am ashamed to admit I have not attended a vigil. This will change. Next March 1st I will find a vigil to attend and honor Lucas Ruiz and all others with a disability that have died. That is the story worth reporting about.