Monday, August 29, 2016

Framing disability only as economic burden fuels hate

By Louise Kinross

An editorial in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper Saturday suggests that the massacre of 19 disabled adults in a Tokyo care home one month ago was not “an extraordinary case.”

Instead, the authors say, the killings by a former home employee reflect a culture that equates human value with economic productivity. “Eugenic ideology may have been deleted from official statements, but it may have yet to be wiped away from people’s thinking,” they write.

When hospitalized months prior to the attack, the murder suspect said he was attracted to the eugenics program of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“There are 800 million people with disabilities worldwide,” he told a city official. “Money is spent on them. It should be used for other purposes.”

In a letter he sent to a politician he wrote: “I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.” 

One of his stated goals was to "revitalize the world economy."

The Asahi Shimbun editorial notes that disability discrimination “undeniably persists” in Japan and “[lurks] everywhere.”

Prior to the killings, another Japanese politician with a son with severe disabilities received an online comment saying she should abandon her son, in the interests of the country, because his care costs too much.

The editorial also notes that an education board official visited a school for children with special needs, then questioned why disabilities can’t be better identified prenatally. “So many people are employed,” she said. “That must be costing a great deal.”

A couple of weeks ago this WIRED article popped up on my screen: The Price of Zika? About $4 million per child.

The piece itemizes the medical and other costs of raising a child with Zika and multiple disabilities. Then a Yale scientist notes: “That’s a productivity loss for the country as a whole.”

Is there not something deeply disturbing about equating a child's life with a country's productivity loss? Remember, Hitler referred to children and adults with disabilities as “useless eaters.”

There are children living with Zika, now. How do stories like this influence the way in which these children are treated by families, health professionals and the public?

A couple of weeks ago I read this piece in The New York Times—Zika: A Formidable Enemy Attacks and Destroys Parts of Babies’ Brains (that headline no longer appears).

It reports on a study of brain scans and ultrasound pictures of 45 Brazilian babies whose mothers were infected with Zika in pregnancy.

According to one of the study authors, “the images suggest that Zika is like a formidable enemy able to do damage in three ways: keeping parts of the brain from forming normally, obstructing areas of the brain, and destroying parts of the brain after they form.”

Do we want children with Zika, who are already here, to be viewed as victims of a “war” on their brains?

In the same piece, microcephaly, a condition in which the head is smaller than usual, is described as Zika’s “sinister signature.”

Can a baby’s head be evil and treacherous? After all, we are still talking about a baby, right? 

Not a demon.

Aren't reporters supposed to avoid value-laden language?

Then I read this excellent piece on The Dos and Don'ts of Writing about the Disabled.

Under the heading First Do No Harm it says: Never equate physical, psychological or intellectual impairment with loss of personhood. People are people.

The Asahi Shimbun editorial ends with this observation: 
“Some people have conspicuous physical features. Others use different means of conversation. No human beings are totally alike. It is natural for every single individual to be different.” 


I agree that, when it comes to human life, everything cannot be viewed from an economic perspective. I also wish to point out that complaints about the "cost" of children with disabilities is not exclusive to Japan. Here in the US and I know in Canada, these sorts of gripes come out especially when it comes to education. Our kids take money away from the system that could be "better used" on typical kids, or so-called gifted children.

I have to say, though, that I get tired of the yolk of over the top political correctness when it comes to language surrounding some things about disability. I think that the destruction wrought by the Zika virus deserves strong language. I'm the step-mom of a young woman and young man with microcephaly (among other things). Neither I nor their father are about to tell you that it's a non-issue. Microcephaly sucks. My step-daughter is awesome. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Political correctness be damned.

Yoke...not "yolk". Good heavens.