Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Death and Disability

Originally posted October 2005

I recently visited an online memorial to the victims of the Nazi genocide against people who were considered to be mentally defective. It's on Metzelf, an anti-psychiatry site, and it describes how hundreds of thousands of children and disabled adults were taken from their families and killed with the enthusiastic cooperation of many psychiatrists.

The website discusses both the routine use of psychiatric drugs and the killing of patients, in the context of a Nazi doctor's statement that "it didn’t make much difference whether somebody was dazed or dead."

To a large extent, this reflects the current attitude of our society. You can see it in our schools with their cattle-call Ritalin dosing of students, in the institutions where our least-wanted children are dumped (and yes,
abusive institutions still exist, even in the 21st century), and in a disability system that stigmatizes benefit recipients as incapable of making any meaningful contributions to society.

In the United States, in order to receive Social Security disability payments, an applicant must show that he or she is incapable of "substantial gainful activity." The applicant must submit to a stressful and demeaning evaluation process that focuses on whether there are any jobs available in the economy that the person could do.

As I see it, the legislators and bureaucrats are dealing with this issue totally bass-ackwards. The main question here isn't whether those who fall into one (or more) of the ever-expanding categories of mental disorders are capable of worthwhile and productive social involvement. The vast majority are. The question, instead, is whether any employers in our greedy and bigoted society are willing to pay them a living wage for their work. With plenty of cheap labor available in China, India, and impoverished countries around the globe, American employers increasingly enjoy the luxury of discriminating against qualified applicants with neurological differences.

What this means is that we have a large number of people who would be capable of productive work, if the structure of our society allowed them to participate, but who are instead being systematically excluded. Those who have self-care difficulties are confronted by a particularly harsh dilemma. If they could find reasonably well-paid work, they would be able to afford to hire household help to assist them with chores such as preparing their meals and doing their laundry. (Many people who are otherwise capable and talented have problems with the details of living independently, but this doesn't mean they lack intelligence in general.)

Because employment discrimination is so rampant, however, most people with obvious neurological differences can't count on being able to get or keep a decent job, no matter how high the quality of their work may be. For those with self-care issues, if they cannot get help from family members, they may have no reasonable option but to go into the disability system and into a bleak group home, where they will have nothing to do but sit around for the next 50 years taking their anti-depressants and waiting to die. It's a choice that no human being should ever be forced to make: either to be declared, in effect, "dead" as a participating member of society, or to risk literal death by starving on the streets.

I fully expect that, one day, there will be a memorial to the victims of the routine abuse of neurological minorities by our own viciously prejudiced society.



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