I find the parallel between the two situations [pro-life stances and stances against the operations on Ashley X and Katie Thorpe] significant in the similarity of the “pro-disabled” side with proponents of the pro-life philosophy: There is very little distinction drawn between those who are severely disabled — or UN-abled — and those who are only somewhat disabled and those who aren’t disabled at all; this is much like how the pro-lifers don’t discriminate between people who are actually born and alive, and those who are merely gestating.There's more at the linked site, but I just want to call attention to some of the language being used here.
It’s all the same to these people. The default position — if you’re pregnant, go on being pregnant; if you’re disabled, go on being disabled in the way nature intended you to be — is the ‘right’ position for these folks. To contemplate anything else is to ‘play God’, interfere with nature, trample on people’s rights, and so on.
Their moral stance is the same not because blastocysts and living humans are the same thing, but because when their prejudices are touched, they find the one right answer, and they want to impose that on others. They’re both pro-lifers, in that, the arbitrary value assigned to any kind of human life over any kind of non-human life, has taken over their minds and emotions absolutely — nothing else matters. The living human must be sacred, it must be preserved, it must be accorded rights.
I think, however, it is fundamentally wrong-headed to think that preferring ability over disability is discriminatory in a bad way. It’s also a mistake to talk about Ashley and Katie as ‘disabled people.’ They aren’t merely disabled — they’re barely alive, hardly conscious. The return on affection or care they make is less than that of the average pet. And yes, that matters. It’s why babies make it out of infancy alive. It’s why so many thinking adults want to be euthanized if they ever lose their higher brain functions.
First of all, I think we need to be very careful when we say things like "not discriminatory in a bad way," particularly when you're not a member of the disadvantaged group being talked about.
First of all, not-bad discrimination has to be morally neutral. If I don't want non-tennis players coming to my tennis club, that's perfectly fine. The event has nothing to do with them, and also there is no systemic discrimination of non-tennis players. There is no history of exclusion. There is also no history of making decisions for non-tennis players, and particularly no history of deciding what to do with non-tennis players' bodies. More importantly still, there is no history of altering non-tennis players' bodies for reasons that are not medically indicated. There is no history of things being imposed on them for the convenience of those who make the decisions for them.
The case of Katie Thorpe is very different than the case of the non-tennis players. It's situated in social history in a relevant way. Even if, in the end, this actually is not the bad kind of discrimination, the burden of proof is on those who say it's not, and it's a massive burden indeed.
All this is not to say that a nondisabled person cannot be right about a disabled person's situation. I don't think it's impossible for the oppressed to overreact or to overreach in their conclusions. However, I do think that it's often a facet of privilege to think you know when discrimination against others is warranted and when it is not. Because of this facet of privilege, I think the burden of proof on a nondisabled person to prove that invasive medical procedures that are not medically indicated are discriminatory in a morally neutral way.
And I think the scare quotes around "pro-disabled" are very revealing here. What does this person know about the disability rights movement? Can she meet us on our own turf and answer our concerns? (So far, in conversations I've watched, I've not seen it.) If she can't, then dismissing us is calling us a foolish little special interest group.
And that's quite clearly not all we are. We were, historically, and are, today, a civil rights movement. The ADA was passed in the US due to our protesting to be recognized. To write us off as over-emotional Luddites is totally ridiculous and totally ignorant of history.
Furthermore, I find the "preferring ability over disability" language here discomfiting as well. How are we defining "ability" and "disability?" If we use a medical model of disability, the answer to that is easy: ability is what a body or mind that has developed in the usual way can do, and disability is something going wrong with that development or wrong with that body or mind later. The proper thing to do is to correct what we can and lament what we can't. If we use a social model, "disability" means what happens to a person when society does not accommodate people who differ from a statistical norm.
This model does indeed allow that there are also impairments, as well, that are not socially induced -- if I cannot move my leg, for example, I am in fact impaired in that way. I'm not disabled unless I also live in a world built for people who walk. If I live in a world built for people who roll, I may rarely notice that my leg doesn't move, just as I don't often notice that I can't bend my elbow backwards. The point is that the impairments, by themselves, are more or less disabling based on whether they matter, and whether they matter depends at least in part on whether the world is constructed in such a way that they do.
So I think what she's saying, clumsily, is something like: Look. Katie Thorpe is impaired, any way you slice it. And being impaired is not entirely neutral, if we're making value assessments. If a person had the option to move her leg, even if she usually rolls, she'd probably take it, simply because she'd be able to do more. Even if, as a member of disability culture, she'd much rather roll, thanks, she still can if her leg now moves. That ability vs impairment comparison seems clearly to indicate that not having the impairment is preferable.
And there's something to that point, of course. One professor I had stressed the fact that most people consider folic acid for pregnant women a good idea. If disability is purely social, and impairments should be judged neutrally, why would any pregnant woman take folic acid? If she does, is that eugenics on a far smaller, less precise scale? After all, she's taking it to lessen the likelihood of mental retardation in her child.
But I don't think the quoted post makes these points from a neutral perspective at all. I don't think this person is engaging with any kind of critique when she coins "un-abled." (And bear in mind that even if we uncritically accept that Katie Thorpe's "mental age" is eighteen months, a one and a half year old is hardly the same as what we think is going on with someone in a PVS. One and a half year olds are curious and engaged with their world.)
And it's this refusal to engage, more than anything, that makes the disability rights activists angry. Our movement can't matter because we don't see the obvious. Our history doesn't exist. And all of these assumptions, in the end, justify people's bodies being cut into for reasons that are not medically necessary.
That's what's so disturbing about all of this. Surgery that isn't medically necessary, surgery that only has an apparent benefit (in Katie's case, no one knows whether menstruation will cause her any distress, as she never has), or surgery clearly designed for the benefit of the caregivers (Ashley X's growth was stunted in large part to make her easier to carry; Katie's caregivers may be considering menstruation a messy new hassle they'd rather avoid), is somehow not only the right thing to do but the obvious right thing to do. If you don't see this as obvious, you're one of those "pro-disability" people who aren't making any sense.