My fellow disability rights blogger, Moggy, brought this to my attention today.
In a recent Slate Magazine obituary of the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, writer and composer Matthew Guerrieri absent-mindedly notes that the composer’s disabled mother was “euthanized” by the Nazis. I am choosing to think of Mr. Guerrieri as “absent-minded” rather than being overtly insensitive or worse. Beginning with the infamous T4 project (which was launched on the same day Hitler invaded Poland) the third Reich rounded up people with disabilities and forcibly removed them to state hospitals where they were subsequently gassed. The term for this is “execution” and not “euthanasia” and one would like to imagine that a talented composer like Mr. Guerrieri knows the difference.
German construction workers are still today finding the mass graves of people with disabilities whose remains were buried in the woods behind the hospitals.
Murder will out.
Perhaps you may be wondering why I labor over such a dark subject on this Christmas Eve?
The most obvious answer is that people with disabilities are still struggling for their rights all over the globe. As with all human rights struggles the language we employ really matters.
There is a lot of “ableism” out there in normative society where the temporarily abled imagine that physical perfection is the sine qua non of true life. Ableists think that “the disabled” are living lives of quiet desperation.
In turn, I’m a big fan of the organization Not Dead Yet which fights to make certain that the general public understands that people with disabilities are living rewarding lives, even in the face of the physical and emotional challenges that accompany so many disabilities.
Although I am essentially a left of center Democrat I sided with President George W. Bush when he attempted to rally Congress in the defense of Terry Schiavo who, as you will recall, was slowly starved to death under the banner of “euthanasia”.
I will never forget that Adolph Hitler called people with disabilities “useless eaters” and I’ll never forget that we have an unjust medical care system in the U.S. which routinely denies appropriate and necessary medical care to the poor.
I can’t use the words euthanasia and disability in a paratactic way. I think that ableist assumptions about the lives of the disabled and the social inequities that surround disability are terrifying.
I suppose you could say I’m having a “blue Christmas” like those folks who were featured this morning on NPR. They ran a story today on “Morning Edition” about an Episcopal church in Washington, DC where the pastor has created a Christmas service for people who are experiencing real grief during the holidays. My hat’s off to those folks. People of conscience feel the pain of life on this blue planet, and for sensitive souls the terrible holiday music and commodified cheer is especially hard to take.
But really, I mean it: I’m not having a blue Christmas. I just want to share the expectation that human rights are supported without exception today and always.
And as Tiny Tim would say: “God bless us, one and all.”