Jul 312012

It sucks being retarded.

That should go without saying, and yet I feel incredibly nervous saying it.

Last week at our book club we read the Hugo-nominated short stories, which included “Movement”. It asks the question – if we can cure a certain type of mental handicap, should we do so?

I feel the answer is very obvious. I’m saddened that many people disagree. In this case, one of the attendees was a teacher of special-needs children, and made an impassioned speech about how great these children are. I have no doubt they are great children. I recognize that sometimes terrible things happen and we, as a society, refuse to be heartless bastards and leave the helpless to die. This is part of what makes us great! We work together and help the vulnerable.

But this is sci-fi, it asks “what if”. And this story asks if (IF!!) we should cure such people, given that a partial cure was available. The character in the story (Hannah) cannot support herself. She lives entirely on the charity of others. If not for them, she would likely soon die of starvation, exposure, or predation. Her desire to continue living this lifestyle cannot be given priority over those of her care-givers. She is incompetent to make such a decision. It is obvious what the best course of action is, and yet the story attempts to portray this in a negative light. To live as an infant is not a beautiful thing – it is a tragic waste of a life.

There is too much exultation of that damaged state. Praise that these are the happiest children, and bring a great deal of joy to their parents. In our book club, the teacher claimed that no parent of any of her kids would want for their child to be cured if such a thing was possible. It is eerily similar to the way most people praise death, and those who embrace it. There seem to be a certain percentage of the population that simply can’t say that some things are unfortunate but must be dealt with while we attempt to solve them, realizing that many lives will be wasted before a solution is found. I think this is part of the reason that anti-aging research gets so little attention. Too much veneration of the unavoidable bad.

No one would intentionally make their child retarded. So why claim that these are such wonderful things? If you wouldn’t intentionally cripple someone to gain these benefits, why would you prevent someone from being cured?

This veneration has practical consequences now, before a cure is even on the horizon. In this otherwise excellent post Melissa states:

when a special needs person becomes an adult in Canada, they are eligible for a personal care assistant covered by the government. We saw far more developmentally or physically disabled persons out and about in Canada, than I ever see here in the USA. They would be getting their groceries at the store, doing their business at the bank, and even working job, all with their personal care assistant alongside them, encouraging them and helping them when they needed it. When my sister came up to visit, she even commented on how visible special needs people were when the lady smiling and waving while clearing tables at the Taco Bell with her caregiver clearly had Downs Syndrome.

This seems to me to be clearly excessive. I haven’t read about this practice, but if this is true, aren’t there more efficient ways to deal with the mentally handicapped than personal assistants? How much is society investing into that Taco Bell job? How many people are being diverted from more productive careers into this care-giving role? Melissa speaks positively about this program, and that it reduces abortion by encouraging mothers with Down’s Syndrome fetuses to carry to term. That is horrible! Stopping that sort of pregnancy is part of why we have prenatal testing in the first place! For it not to be taken advantage of is a travesty!

This celebration of tragedy is pervasive. A coworker once remarked that Schindler’s List reaffirmed his belief in a god. To emphasize: a story about the most publicized and reviled genocide in recent history makes him feel there is a benevolent father watching over us. The worship of a few good points in an unmitigated disaster blows my mind.

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