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Disability is no justification for murder


Disability is no justification for murder

There are many stories of disabled people who have died at the hands of family members, and so often the media uses terms like 'compassionate homicide' or 'mercy killing' to describe the actions. But the killing of a disabled person is not 'compassionate'. It is not 'euthanasia'. It is murder, writes Stella Young.

I first heard the name Kyla Puhle in December last year. Hers wasn't an unfamiliar story. I'd heard dozens like it before.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kyla starved to death in her family home in South Australia. She weighed just 12 kilograms.

It's probably important to tell you, at this point, that Kyla was a disabled woman. Is it important? Does it change the story? It certainly doesn't change the fact that a young woman is dead, and that she probably died in horrible pain.

What it does change, it would seem, is the fate of those responsible.

Angela and Harry Puhle were originally charged with the murder of their daughter but released on bail. Harry Puhle later committed suicide, shooting himself with one of his registered firearms. This prompted a coronial inquiry into why he wasn't stripped of his guns when granted bail.

We might be forgiven for wondering why, if the Puhles owned firearms, they didn't just shoot their daughter instead of starving her to death. It would certainly have been a more humane and dignified death. The prosecution argued that Kyla was neglected over an extended period of time, and literally starved to death.

Angela Puhle pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond. Further, the judge described Puhle as "a loving and devoted mother". He said:

"You did all you could over the years to ensure she could live as happy a life as possible for a person with severe disabilities that she suffered from."

She will not serve time in prison.

Consider for a moment the fact that in South Australia where Kyla Puhle died of starvation, the offense of ill treatment of an animal - whether or not that ill treatment results in death - carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or four years in prison (PDF). Earlier this year Adelaide man Hally French pleaded guilty to bashing a dog with a pole and suspending it from a clothes line. He received a three month prison sentence. The dog subsequently made a full recovery.

Kyla Puhle was entirely dependent on her parents to care for her. She was unable to walk, talk or feed herself. We know that services and support for people with very high support needs like Kyla are few and far between. Part of the reason we know this is because tragedies like this continue to happen. The Puhle case is not an isolated one.

References and further information

This article was originally produced by ABC's The Drum. 


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