In Kenny Fries’s recent NYT column, he described how Hitler targeted people with disabilities as well as Jews for extermination. He was able to do this because he convinced his followers that these lives were not as valuable as others, and that the world would be better off without them.
But Mr. Fries did not stop at the Holocaust – he also wrote about how similar thinking caused the Supreme Court to allow involuntary sterilization of women considered “imbeciles” to keep them from “continuing their kind.” (See my 9/29/17 post)
Mr. Fries then went on to say that while Hitler was demonized and involuntary sterilization is now almost alway illegal, there is a certain kind of thinking that still lingers – the idea that it is socially and economically acceptable to prioritize certain kinds of lives over others. He also wrote that it is this kind of thinking that justifies the calls for cutting Medicaid and irrevocably worsening the lives of many people – especially the elderly, the poor and the disabled.
One of the people Mr. Fries referred to was the Rev. Susan Flanders. Ms. Flanders has since written a letter to the NYT, saying that she believes Mr. Fries inaccurately portrayed her views. “The issue here is whether people can have a quality of life that is meaningful and valuable to them” she wrote, ”…and I would never favor cutting short such a life.”
In the interest of being fair to both sides, I am attaching a copy of her letter below. But I would never try to represent that this issue is as simple as two opposing posts. After all, we are literally talking about life and death here.
In 2010, Craig Fugate wrote about Benilda Caixeta, “who was paralyzed from her shoulders down. [S]he was one of many residents of New Orleans, Louisiana, still trying to evacuate when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. But despite her repeated calls to the local transportation system that served people with disabilities, as well as to 911, help never arrived. She was found dead in her apartment several days later, floating next to her wheelchair.”
Mr. Fugate had both humanitarian and professional reasons to mourn Ms. Caixeta. At the time he wrote this CNN opinion piece, he was the director of FEMA.
He also wrote, “Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As we celebrate this historic law, which delivered civil rights to millions of Americans, we must also acknowledge how far we still have to go to live up to the law’s promise — especially when it comes to planning for disasters and protecting the vulnerable such as Benilda Caixeta.”
Among other things, Mr. Fugate mentioned that for both the Katrina and Hugo hurricanes, “many children and adults with disabilities were turned away from shelters. Blind and deaf residents did not have access to critical information about where to go or how to get assistance. Services that are required under ADA and other disability rights laws were not provided. And many disabled evacuees developed serious – but preventable – health conditions.”
Seven years later, we are celebrating the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and are watching Houston as it seems to slowly sink under the fury of Hurricane Harvey. We have also seen some inspirational scenes of “ordinary people” steering their canoes towards people in stress (some of whom were wheelchair users) and rescuing them.
But there was also an unbelievable news item yesterday about 18 stranded nursing home residents, sitting waist-deep in flood water. The owner’s son-in-law finally tweeted out a photo showing how alarming the situation had become, and everyone was saved. (It’s refreshing, for once, to see a positive tweet with a positive outcome!).
So we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go.
Below are the links to the above news stories.
This morning, it looks like every national news channel is politely screaming at Texas residents to get out of the way of Hurricane Harvey. Reluctant reporters are trying to stay neutral as they ask some people why they are determined to defy the evacuation orders and “ride it out.” The answers are predictable: “I want to protect my family – animals – farm…”
I’m not about to judge the wisdom of these people and their decisions. But this situation does make me think about how I and other people with disabilities would fare if we had to suddenly evacuate because of a disaster (natural or man-made).
Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of information about this on the http://www.ada.gov website. I have attached two links that discuss the necessity of advanced planning — both on the part of cities and of those who might be the most vulnerable in an emergency.
Stay safe – and stay prepared!