If you don’t do so already, I highly suggest that you read the daily postings by Orac over at Respectful Insolence and by his “friend” over at Science Based Medicine. You’ll learn a lot about critical thinking and how it can be applied to the anti-science movement. Today’s post at RI was a rough one to read. It had to do with the death of a child with autism at the hands of his mother and of his caretaker. The long and short of it is that the mother and the caretaker of the child could not deal with his autism (and the behavior resulting from the autism) and so decided to kill him. His murder was appalling in itself, but the way they went about it was brutal.
Within the comments section of that blog post was this comment (with my emphases in bold):
“i agree with t’s comment.
i understand the opinion isn’t popular with people who have severely autistic/disabled children – but the only responses those people have provided to t’s logical post, are purely emotion-based.
lilady – i’m very sorry for your loss, but even you can’t provide any way that society benefited from pouring resources into keeping your severely disabled child alive for 28 years – only that you loved him and were happy to have him in *your* life for that time.
the money put into those services doesn’t magically appear – it comes from tax-paying citizens and their businesses, and it is a finite resource. the money spent on severely disabled people – who, without sugar-coating, are of absolutely no benefit to society as a whole – would be better spent improving education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc… for those who are able to put back into the system.”
Yes, that’s our “lilady” that he is addressing. And, if I may be “emotional” for a second, I would slap him across the face for talking to her that way. But I digress…
Whether “t” and this commenter (“Have to Agree”) were trolling is up for you to decide. But, trolling or not, there are plenty of people who have the same point of view. They look at the time and resources put into a person with a disability and they see waste. Likewise, they see waste in trying to save someone who has gone into the middle of a lake and is now drowning. “Why risk the lives of the rescuers in saving someone so stupid?” they ask. Seriously, that argument about the lake was made after the tragic death of a teenager who drowned trying to cross a lake. It was made by a man associated with the Tea Party, and it was made at one of their rallies. (I was there not as a participant. I was there just like National Geographic explorers are “there” during a lion’s feeding frenzy.)
Emotional issues aside, what does the evidence and the facts tell us about respecting human life and, subsequently, preserving human life, even if that life is “not productive”? At the very least, taking care of someone with a severe disability is employing someone else. Some nurse or other caretaker is getting paid, and that money is going into the economy. Then there are the medical advances that will come from the experience that the physicians taking care of people with disabilities will gain. A child born with severe autism will offer a wealth of knowledge to the understanding of developmental delays if that child is taken care of and the person doing the caring passes on the knowledge. Likewise, a paraplegic will allow for advances in assistive technologies for others. People developing those technologies will make money, and those technologies can be applied in other fields.
Am I being too emotional?
Now, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that I there is a child who is in a persistent vegetative state and only his or her family are taking care of them. They take days off work or school to care for this child. They’re not employing anyone, and they’re not in need of medical care for the child. There is just money going out of the family’s treasury and into food and clothing. Is that a waste? Is that something that is not benefiting society? Without getting too emotional, I don’t think that it is.
If that child inspires the parents to better themselves so they can provide for the child, that’s something. If the mother or father or siblings become active in the community to improve the lives of those who are born or become disabled, that is something. And if they become kind to each other and to others based on their experience with that child, that is something.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who take it upon themselves to look after those who can’t take care of themselves. That selfless act makes those people better parts of our society. Don’t believe me? Go ask one of them if they’re more evil because of their “luck” in life. Chances are that they will tell you that their lives are better because of that disabled (or non-typical) child or family member.
This is not to say that there are not plenty of people and families who are in a state of despair over their situation. But 99.9999999% of them don’t blame the disabled child, at least not enough to murder them. And that is where we find ourselves today. We find ourselves debating the merits of the despair felt by the mother and the caretaker of the child they killed. And we find ourselves debating, quite unnecessarily, if people who are completely disabled are worth taking care of. All the while, the debate we need to be having is how to better take care of the needs of those disabled people, because that kind of brainstorming and action makes us all better.