terri schiavo

Discrimination against people with disabilities continues

I have a piece out in the Human Life Review decrying the “unrepentant bigotry” that allows people with profound disabilities to be denigrated as “skin bags” (as one example) or, if profoundly cognitively disabled, as mere flora. From “That Unrepentant Bigotry” (citations omitted):

“Stop the hate!” we are often told.  To be sure, that is a worthy goal.  Indeed, in recent decades great strides have been made throughout society in accepting most of us, as indeed, truly and clearly, “us.”  For example, the worst forms of racist speech are now far beyond the pale—to the extent that the despicable N-word can no longer be uttered publicly without serious social consequences—even to popular entertainers—and racist jokes are, thankfully, mostly an ugly anachronism of the unlamented Jim Crow past. Meanwhile, most frown at sexist, homophobic and other epithetic utterances intended to demean whole categories of people based on personal characteristics or creed.  Finally, after decades of effort and consciousness raising, Martin Luther King’s dream of a culture that judges people on the content of their character is encouragingly close to reality.

But the news is not all good. Many of our brothers and sisters remain the victims of a pervasive but nearly invisible bigotry—and indeed subjected continually to profoundly demeaning and hateful characterizations—mostly without social protest, cultural opprobrium, or even notice by the usual enforcers of cultural comity.  Indeed, the “hate speakers” may even be applauded or their denigration either not noticed or ignored, perhaps because the denigrators are often themselves unaware that they have engaged in hurtful rhetoric.

Ironically, this still-discriminated-against group is also our most diverse. Its membership comes in all races, ages, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and any other human identifier one can conjure.  In fact, if not already within this scorned cadre, any one of us could become a member at any time, and all of us have—or had—loved ones who could be so identified. So, who are these despised unfortunates?  People with profound cognitive disabilities and catastrophically debilitating diseases, against whom it remains respectable to employ profoundly demeaning descriptives both in public discourse, public policy advocacy, and private conversation.

I go into the history of such bigotry, including eugenics, Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, and other matters, and give examples from the contemporary scene such as David Brooks using the “bag of skin” pejorative and “Family Guy” attacking Terri Schiavo as a “vegetable.” I also describe the impact of the “unrepentant bigotry” – for example, how the organs of such people are now coveted within some elements of the transplant medical and bioethics communities. Also, how some are now saying that it would be right to euthanize such people for the benefit of society.

I conclude:

Activists and their supporters who struggle against racism and other forms of discriminatory thinking have long understood that the words we use express how we think, which in turn, leads to action being taken–both private and public.  By working to make racist and similar epithets beyond the pale, activists like Martin Luther King understood that better behavior would follow—and so it has.

Yet, there remains in society one group of people who are still mocked, dehumanized, marginalized, castigated, blamed for woes, and subjected to threatened actions that present a clear danger to their lives and futures. If we are to have a truly equal and moral society, if our health care system is to have any chance of caring properly for the least of those among us, to use a Biblical turn of phrase, we need to watch our mouths and cleanse our hearts.

It’s a long article, but it puts a lot of things we have discussed here into a broader mosaic. Check it out.

Note: The full article, “Unrepentant Bigotry,” was first published in Human Life Review, and this article was reprinted with permission of the author.

  • Nana Jody

    I am still in shock that our nation “murdered” Terri Schiavo.  The masses are being desensitized for what is coming in the future…Hitler may pale in comparison.

    • N. Kemery

      The nation didn’t murder terri schiavo, terri schiavo murdered terri schiavo. She made the conscious choice to take the “easy way out” and starve herself to make herself “look good” which was dumb on her part…there’s plenty of things she could have done to lose weight if she wanted. That is the problem with my generation…everything has become so convenient and fast paced that impatience and laziness now play a key role in society. If something takes a few seconds to do but we find an alternative solution that is shorter we take the alternative solution, cause we want it done now. “gimme, gimme, gimme.” And that’s our problem also known as terri schiavo’s downfall. Do not blame her death on America….

      • MSH

         Excuse me, but what on earth are you talking about? Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed by her husband resulting in her death by starvation and dehydration, after a lengthy court battle because she had left no clearly worded living will, only his assertion that she would choose to have the feeding tube removed. Her starvation was not by her choice, but done by court order. There was no vanity involved in this case whatsoever.  Please, go do some research.

        • Elise77

           Actually, her heart attack was thought to be caused by low potassium levels as a result of extreme dieting and/or bulimia.

          However (N. Kemery), she was not dead following that heart attack. And it seems obvious enough that she didn’t diet with the intention of dying. When death came, it was due to COURT-ORDERED starvation and dehydration. This despite the fact that her family had provided evidence that she was conscious and capable of interaction with her family and response to various stimuli. And all because her husband demanded it so he could go on with his life while benefiting her death. He couldn’t wait to wash his hands of her, while her parents fought for her life. And the judge sided with HIM, a man who had already taken up with another woman and fathered children with her while still married to Terri. Responsibility for her death rests firmly on the judge’s shoulders and those of her despicable husband.

  • Debbie

    Sad because it’s true and it’s sooo much worse for those who live at whats considered”poverty level in America, u k I found a book on this on Amazon “dissability and poverty in America” the book costs $100.00, so pple like me can’t even afford the book about the life we lead, Do you think those “rich” pple. who can afford the book will do anything more than say “oh those poor pple., how sad”? I won’t hold my breath From politicians down to “regular folks” will anyone actually do something to help? Again I won’t hold my breath, but there is always HOPE, and we try to have Faith, and we despertly want to BELIEVE that it will all work out, and that LIFE will be good!!! if you don’t have a supportive family/friend group w/ you it doesn’t pay to get sick or disabled, how r we supposed to get out of the poverty level of living, and is it really living? 

  • davenisbet87

    I have to admit while i’m pro-life, there’s a whole I lot don’t know about things like eugenics so this article (I went and read the full version) was a real and horrifying eye opener. I just simply cannot believe some of the things that have gone on in our world!
    I pray daily that hearts and minds will be changed and opened to the truth that life is life, that life is precious and that no one has the right to end one.