Ethics and Spirituality
This chapter considers ethical and spiritual issues related to intellectual disability. Consideration of the meaning of life of an intellectually disabled person must take into account how society defines and responds to individual differences. There are ethical and religious concerns regarding prenatal diagnosis and questions of how to teach ethical behavior to persons with intellectual disability. Participation in religious practices in the community and in group home settings is important for families and persons with intellectual disability. This chapter reviews these issues in detail.
In biblical times, there were edicts about disability that offer insight into attitudes toward disabled people. There is an Old Testament injunction: “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, put a stumbling block before the blind, nor maketh the blind wander out of a path” (Leviticus 19:14). This may be the first Western command to legislate for the protection of the deaf and handicapped. Moreover, deaf persons without speech were viewed as children and provided the same protections as children. Yet, the threat of disability was also an element in biblical injunctions: “If you do not follow his commandments and decrees … all these curses will become upon you and overtake you: The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness, and confusion of mind. At midday, you will grope around like a man in the dark” (Deuteronomy 28:15). Although help for those with disabilities was seen as a charitable obligation, disability was perceived potentially as a punishment from God. Ancient people often believed that illness was inflicted by a deity or supernatural power (Rosen, 1968). In records dating back before 2000 B.C., the birth of children with congenital impairments were used to predict the future of the community. In Babylonia, those who pro-