Over the past decade stories epitomizing the intersections of disability studies and bioethics have been at the center of international news. From the recent euthanizing of blind-deaf twins in Belgium to the story of Tomas Young a paralyzed veteran of the Iraq War who has decided to end his life, narratives of physician assisted suicide and disability are growing in frequency.
Contrasting and disparate narratives highlight efforts to modify people with disabilities, most notably a procedure called “growth attenuation” in which children with intellectual disabilities are rendered forever small. Genetic counseling suggests it is advisable to abort children with Down Syndrome or even less dramatic disabilities such as blindness.
One can scarcely imagine what Helen Keller’s response might have been to the sanctioned euthanasia of the blind-deaf Belgian twins, or the argument that disabled little girls should be rendered forever small, largely for the sake of their parents’ convenience. I think she would be demanding air time on our feckless televisions to argue for human dignity and to remind viewers we are not our disabilities but indeed are creatures more mysterious and precious than casual glimpses lead many to suppose.