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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The people we're OK with killing


There's a powerful piece of writing by Tommy Christopher on Mediate about a major US network excusing the murder of a disabled child.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are routinely slandered in the news media, even by parents of autistic children, but nothing comes remotely close to a CBS News report that sickly excuses the murder of 14 year-old Alex Spourdalakis by his mother and an accomplice. The report has spurred a petition to have CBS News take it down, but they really need to air a complete retraction, and discipline everyone involved in this travesty.
On Friday’s CBS This Morning, reporter Sharyl Attkisson delivered a report that was fatally flawed on several levels, but I hesitate to even mention the reporting itself, because even if everything in the report was 100% above-board and true, it would not support the sick conclusion that permeates it: that Alex Spourdalakis’ mother had no choice but to murder him. This sounds like an exaggeration, surely, but it is not. This was the explicit message of CBS News’ report.

The closest anyone in this report comes to denouncing Alex’s murder is anchor Gayle King, who introduces the piece by saying “The case is extreme, but it shines a light on the struggles of hundreds of thousands of families coping with autism.”
Why can so many journalists involved in compiling and presenting this report be so blind? Christopher quotes Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the first presidential appointee with autism:
"An ideology, a dangerous ideology that preaches that people are better off dead than disabled, is what led to Alex’s murder."
This is hardly just an American problem. Hate crime against the disabled is going up in the UK, aided by, yes, them again, the media. In the UK's case it's a drip-drip of stories about fake benefit claimants, allegedly sourced back to the government.

In another powerful piece for ABC Australia Stella Young details harrowing case after harrowing case of:
Disabled people who have died at the hands of family members, and so often the media uses terms like 'compassionate homicide' or 'mercy killing' to describe the actions. But the killing of a disabled person is not 'compassionate'. It is not 'euthanasia'. It is murder.
In one case a daughter was starved to death.
Angela Puhle pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond. Further, the judge described Puhle as "a loving and devoted mother". He said:
"You did all you could over the years to ensure she could live as happy a life as possible for a person with severe disabilities that she suffered from."
She will not serve time in prison.
Consider for a moment the fact that in South Australia where Kyla Puhle died of starvation, the offense of ill treatment of an animal - whether or not that ill treatment results in death - carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or four years in prison (PDF). Earlier this year Adelaide man Hally French pleaded guilty to bashing a dog with a pole and suspending it from a clothes line. He received a three month prison sentence. The dog subsequently made a full recovery.
Like Christopher, Young makes this point:
While the disability support system may indeed be woefully inadequate to support these parents, it cannot possibly be used to justify murder.
Of course not, but I do wonder if there is not a collective responsibility. A community, neighbours, relatives, who let down those disabled people. Professionals who, like is often reported when a child is neglected and murdered, who saw warning signs but failed to take action?

If we can understand racism or homophobia as being something pervasive, as not limited to 'bad' and 'good' individuals, as not a personalised 'sin', then surely disabalism is also a collective and pervasive issue? That disabalism killed these people?

If these parents were killing their kids because they're gay then we'd understand that the parents are personally responsible but also that the community let them get away with it and allowed that level of hate to fester?

Hugh Ryan wrote a powerful piece last month in the New York Times reviewing a exhibition about the first five years of HIV/Aids in New York. He chronicles how the exhibition whitewashes those institutions, like, but far from limited to, the Catholic Church, who were perfectly happy to watch gays die.
Bad history has consequences. I’m not afraid we will forget AIDS; I am afraid we will remember it and it will mean nothing. If we cannot face the root issue — that we let people die because we did not like them — AIDS will become a blip on our moral radar, and this cycle will repeat every time we connect an unpopular group with something that scares us.
I survived that time and I can well recall: people wanted people like me dead, that's just the truth. It wasn't just individuals, it was something far more rotten.

If murder and ill treatment of the disabled is getting worse that's not about a few bad apples, it's about our collective decision to allow it to happen.
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