Tania Clarence, 42, was cleared of murder charges this week after admitting she smothered her three disabled children. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London accepted Clarence’s guilty plea to manslaughter on the grounds of “diminished responsibility.” Clarence was severely depressed and attempted to commit suicide immediately after the death of her three-year-old twin sons Ben and Max, and her daughter Olivia, aged four.
All three children had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder, type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is characterized by muscle atrophy so severe that it can cause abnormal curvature of the spine and problems walking, eating, drinking and breathing.
People with type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy are unable to walk or stand but may be able to stay in a sitting position at some point in their life. While most children who have this condition survive into adulthood, they usually experience a shorter lifespan.
Prosecutor Zoe Johnson QC argued that Clarence was deeply concerned about the quality of life of her children and felt it was more important than their longevity. The prosecution also claimed that Clarence, who was in the grips of a major depressive episode, suffocated her children because she wanted to end her suffering and that of her three children.
“It is clear on the evidence Mrs. Clarence killed her three children because she wanted to end their suffering and at the time she committed the act she could not see any alternative or any other way out of their joint suffering,” Johnson said.
On the defense, Jim Sturman QC, argued, “She was manifesting stress throughout the life of the children by their suffering and caring for three children with this condition was exhausting, distressing, debilitating and turned out to be overwhelming.”
At the time of the incident, Clarence “bitterly regretted” she had survived her suicide attempt, but now mournfully regrets the death of her three children.
After judge Mr. Justice Sweeney accepted Clarence’s guilty plea on the charge of manslaughter, Sturman asked that Clarence be sent to a hospital instead of prison. Sturman said a court-order hospitalization would be a “just and compassionate" sentence.
Image via The BBC