The new summer edition of Abilities Magazine features an article I wrote about a trend that I began to observe over the past year - the title of the article is "The New Face of Eugenics: The Shocking New Trend Toward Devaluing People With Disabilities". Here's a snippet:
In 2004, I recall telling a neighbour that my son Nicholas was very ill because of his severe disabilities and we had moved him to our hospital palliative care service. “Oh”, she nodded sympathetically, “I remember when we had to put our dog down, it was so hard”. I stopped sipping my coffee and blinked.
I am reminded of that conversation because recently, I have observed a pernicious trend toward labeling some people not worthy of being considered human. And it’s not just insensitive neighbours - it’s Princeton University bioethicists and animal rights activists Peter Singer and Geoff MacMahon. They use IQ as a yardstick for human worth and argue that people with severe cognitive disabilities have roughly the same intrinsic value as a dog or a pig. Now ethicists Francesca Minerva and Alberto Guilini have weighed in on the question of what kind of life constitutes personhood in a recent issue of The Journal of Medical Ethics. A right to life, they say, is based on a person’s ability to perceive meaning in their own existence. “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.” They use this argument to justify “after-birth abortion” (infanticide) in cases where, due to disability or even changed family economic circumstances, the killing of newborns is justified because infants have no appreciation of life or the loss of it. Duke University philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong makes an equally frightening case in another recent issue of the same journal. He seeks to prove that killing in itself is not wrong. Rather, he maintains, the wrong is in the removal of abilities from another. This line of reasoning allows him to justify using people with severe cognitive disabilities who require life-support technologies, but who are not brain dead, as organ donors. Each of these arguments is frightening, but taken together, they pose a real threat to everyone, especially people with disabilities and those who love them.
We should pay attention to these journal articles because ideas developed by philosophers and ethicists have a way of trickling down, over time, into the hearts and minds of everyday people.
Today, I happened on the blog of the esteemed disability activist and academic, Catherine Frazee. Here is bit of what she wrote: