Devaluing Lives; the Culture of Death Imperils the Disabled

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 2, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Devaluing Lives; the Culture of Death Imperils the Disabled


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

While the media focused on religious groups and pro-lifers (not all pro-lifers are religious) engaged in trying to save Terri Schiavo, largely ignored were many disability-rights organizations. Andrew J. Imparato, head of the largest of them, the American Association of People with Disabilities, emphasizes there are more than 56 million American children and adults with disabilities, and I would note that many of the rest of us may unexpectedly join their number.

This past March, Mr. Imparato, speaking to CNN regarding Mrs. Schiavo's plight, said that he feared that "when we start devaluing the lives of peoples with disabilities, we don't know where that's going to stop." Tellingly, he added: "You also need to take into account the financial implications of all of this. We have an economy that is not doing as well as it once was and a lot of people are looking at how can we save money. One way to save money is make it easier for people with disabilities to die." Since the final removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, disability-rights organizations have become increasingly involved with getting Congress to pass federal legislation that can begin protecting the voiceless, as Terri was against guardians who have conflicts of interest. Their claims to know the wishes of persons who can't speak for themselves are often disputed by other members of the disabled's family.

While Terri Schiavo was still alive, moreover, Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, working hard to get congressional intervention, said: "There are a lot of people in the shadows, all over this country, who are incapacitated because of a disability, and many times there is no one to speak for them, and it is hard to determine what their wishes really are or were." For years, I have relied on information and analysis from a deeply informed spokeswoman for disability rights, Mary Johnson, whose valuable Web site is www.raggededgemagazine.com. As she says: "The issue is much bigger than Schiavo, and it is not about the 'right to life'; it is about equal protection of the law. Constitutional protection." The 14th Amendment guarantees every one of us that no state shall deprive "any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law." And the tragedy of Mrs. Schiavo was that in all of the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, she was indeed bereft of due process because those courts relied entirely on the rigid misunderstanding of the facts by one circuit state court judge in Florida.

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Devaluing Lives; the Culture of Death Imperils the Disabled
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