In May 2015, Bonnie Liltz thought she was dying. Suffering from poor health because of damage to her digestive system following radiation treatments, she woke up one morning in excruciating pain.
She thought of her daughter Courtney, who had cerebral palsy and was completely dependent on her. Liltz feared that no one would be able to take care of Courtney upon her passing. Reaching for a bottle of medication, she emptied the contents of several capsules into her daughter's feeding tube, took some of the medicine herself and left a suicide note behind.
The overdose took Courtney's life, but her mother survived.
After bonding out of jail, she now faces a four-year prison sentence, an incredibly light punishment for murder, it would seem. Citing health problems, Liltz appealed her sentence, only to have her application denied. Now she's petitioning Governor Bruce Rauner to have her sentence overturned.
It's not uncommon for parents who kill their disabled children to receive lighter consequences than others who commit murder. In this case, defense attorneys and Cook County prosecutors sought probation, but the judge overseeing the case sentenced her to prison instead, noting that what she did was not the act of love she insisted it was, but was in fact a crime.
Liltz claimed that during her brief stint behind bars before bonding out, she didn't get the medical care she needed. That's a likely scenario, considering that there's currently a class-action lawsuit pending in federal court alleging that seriously-ill Illinois prisoners don't get adequate healthcare.
I agree that she should be given the care she needs. However, merely commuting her sentence and leaving it at that isn't an adequate solution.
The state needs to provide inmates with necessary medical services. Prison systems across the country have attracted national attention when the truth about negligent treatment of seriously-ill prisoners came to light.
Healthcare costs are rising, and resources are becoming increasingly strained. Lives spent in the corrections system aren't regarded as very valuable. Nonetheless, we shouldn't put those lives in peril with the possibility that they could be cut short because of preventable diseases or injuries. We shouldn't put people in a position where they suffer unnecessary pain and complications.
Disability-rights advocates are correct when they contend that light punishments for parents who kill disabled children serve to devalue those lives. Judges sometimes tend to be so sympathetic toward the parents that they get barely a slap on the wrist. That sets a dangerous precedent and makes it appear that we as a society assign value to human life based on one's mental and physical capabilities.
On another note I have a hard time understanding parents killing their disabled children out of fear that there won't be anyone to care for them when Mom and Dad are no longer able to. Admittedly, options are sometimes limited, but many parents who are concerned about this begin seeking solutions, such as group homes, long before they expect to need those services. While we should treat parents like Liltz humanely, we shouldn't become sympathetic to the point that it appears we agree with what they've done or believe that it was justified.
Returning to prison seems the more likely outcome for Bonnie Liltz, unless Governor Rauner decides to void her sentence. Most likely, her case won't come before the Prison Review Board until January. Back behind bars though, she should be able to receive required medical services.
But if the state doesn't have the resources to provide for its sickest inmates, other solutions must be sought that provide necessary care while still requiring prisoners to serve at least the minimum requirements of their sentences (and beyond the minimum if they're deemed ineligible for parole).
Louisiana is one state currently considering legislation to allow the most critically-ill prisoners (except those on death row) to be released temporarily to get treatment. They would be supervised during their release. (Many of them are ineligible for Medicaid but would be eligible upon their release. When they don't qualify for Medicaid, the state has to pick up the bill).
Perhaps something along those lines could be a possibility for Liltz, provided that she can be constantly monitored while receiving services. It's not the best solution, but it may be the only other option if proper care can't be provided in-house. Temporary release to obtain care is one thing, but to have her sentence overturned completely?
The question in Illinois shouldn't be whether Liltz ought to be released, but rather how do we provide better care for inmates so this isn't an issue? One problem with releasing her is this: She's not the only prisoner with a potentially serious medical condition. There are scores of them, so it would be hard to make an exception for her based on those grounds.
If the state has denied her appeal, I'm sure they have their reasons. Elderly and sick prisoners, many of them likely more medically fragile than she is, remain behind bars despite declining health, so it seems doubtful that she is going to get a pass on this one.
Filed under: Uncategorized