The trouble with love is that it can cover a multitude of sins.
No doubt a number of the catholic priests who abuse little boys believe they have ‘love in their heart’. Those that do not have cynically used the love of the Mother Church to mask their obscene acts. Where better for those with sin in their heart to hide than under the cloak of the priesthood?
And as in priesthood, so in parenthood. Not all parents will have the best interests of their children at heart. Some will be misguided, others more sinister in their intent. And what better mask for such a parent than a plea of ‘love in the heart’?
Frankie – as she is known by family and friends – Inglis, the mother who was convicted and jailed for killing her brain-damaged son Tom, has made such a plea. For some, the plea has resonance. The jury were heckled for convicting, and Frankie hailed by many as brave and heroic; a mother who had indeed acted with love in her heart. A media storm of sympathy whipped up. Mercifully, no one got round to calling her Saint Frankie, but one thing was sure: in the eyes of many, far from going to jail, Frankie should go to Hollywood, or – more likely – the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Dr No was and is disquieted. The protestations of ‘love in the heart’ have begun to rankle, as if she doth protest too much. The news that she is to appeal, on the grounds of ‘slow burn provocation‘, set him a-thinking. So Dr No looked deeper. What he found led to a dark conclusion: that, so far as we can tell from what we know, Frankie’s story was not so much of a mother’s love for her son, as about a mother’s concern for herself.
The clues – all hearsay, and this Dr No accepts – are many. Each one, of itself, might weigh little, but taken together, they build to a weight that has the scales to tip away from what we might call ‘mercy killing’, towards a darker purpose. Let us consider some of those clues:
• Inglis had past dealings with Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion known for its unusual beliefs over certain aspects of medical treatment
• Inglis worked in the ‘caring professions’, professions that are natural magnets for those with ‘love in the heart’, be that love genuine or of more sinister intent
• Inglis consistently denied any possibility that Tom might improve, despite the fact doctors told her repeatedly that he might improve, possibly even return to normal life
• Inglis refused consent for surgery, accusing the surgeon of wishing to operate not for clinical reasons, to bolster his CV (consent was given – by Tom’s father)
• Caught breaking a bail order not to visit Tom, Inglis said: ‘I would rather spend the rest of my life in prison than watch my son live like this for another day.’ Cui bono?, we might ask. Whose ‘living hell’ is to be released?
• Inglis made not one but two attempts to kill her son, and in a very real way, it was the first attempt that sealed Tom’s fate. Before the first attempt, he was responsive, albeit in minor ways, and the prognosis, even if guarded, was hopeful; after it, Tom lay damaged beyond hope; an inevitable target for the mother with ‘love in her heart’
• Immediately after killing Tom, Inglis – who, remember, we are asked to believe, was acting with ‘love in her heart’ – snarled at nurses, claimed she was HIV positive, and threatened to spit on them
• Inglis denied murder, on the grounds that she lacked malice. Be that as it may, it is a misguided understanding of the law: murder does not require malice (or aforethought for that matter); it requires intent (which lawyers sometimes call malice aforethought to confuse the rest of us) – and no one can doubt Inglis’s intent
• Inglis has at no time shown any remorse. She has made it clear she would do the same thing again if the circumstances arose
• Inglis intends to appeal, on the grounds of ‘slow burn provocation’, a defence most commonly associated with domestic violence: the ‘perp’ is in fact also a victim, driven to crime by a drip-drip-drip of aggravation from the actual victim
It is within the last clue (and ‘Cui bono?’) that we see most clearly the shadows of the sinister processes at work in Inglis’s mind. This crime may or may not have been about ‘releasing’ Tom from his torment (if indeed it was torment – we only have his mother’s word that it was so); what we also see is a mother hell-bent on releasing herself from her own living hell, even if it means going to jail.
And there’s worse to come. An appeal on grounds of slow burn provocation is nothing less than a cynical ploy that seeks to turn the facts on their head. Those with ‘sin in their heart’ are of course no strangers to such ploys; and yet it contains, Dr No believes, the seeds of Inglis’s undoing, for it holds the light to her true state of mind: that she considers herself provoked by her own torment to kill; and that because she was provoked, it wasn’t murder.
Were such an appeal to succeed, we will – make no mistake – find ourselves in a chilling new world, where ‘mercy killing’ will extend beyond merciful release for the stricken patient, to merciful release for the grieving family, provoked to kill by the enduring torment of seeing their suffering relative.
The psychiatrist is often called to decide whether a person is mad, bad or sad. The categories are not mutually exclusive. Frankie was certainly sad – whether that sadness was part of a natural grief, or a clinical illness, is a moot point. Was she bad? Knowing what we do, we have to say yes. She killed with intent, and that is murder, and murder is bad. No absence of malice, and its replacement with ‘love in the heart’ can alter that. Was she mad? On balance, Dr No feels the evidence says no. She was obsessed, even to the extent of being deranged in her beliefs, but there are many who are obsessed and deranged in belief who are not mad. And so we are left with badness, albeit badness tinged with sadness.
So it is right that Frankie goes not to Hollywood, but to Holloway.