Among the difficulties disabled persons face when it comes to childbearing and parenting is the lack of appropriate access to childbirth facilities that extend necessary support services. Cheylla Silva, a deaf woman from Miami, Florida about to give a birth to her second child, was denied access to the sign language interpreter at Baptist Hospital. Without an interpreter, Silva cannot adequately communicate with the doctors and nurses providing care. Silva has filed a complaint to the federal court requesting an American Sign Language interpreter be provided during her childbirth, referring to the Americans with Disability Act which guarantees access to health services to everyone regardless of their disability.
Richard Dawkins, a professor and evolutionary biologist famous for his somewhat controversial attitudes and arguments, made a comment on social media that attracted the broader media’s attention. From his Twitter account, Dawkins advised a woman to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome, as he argued it would be immoral not to do so. His comment provoked large-scale discussion regarding eugenics and has sparked debates about who has a right to be born. Shortly thereafter, Dawkins issued an apology that included rationale behind this kind of statement. Quite diverse responses to Dawkins’s statement came from two columnists, one written by Giles Fraser, a priest and a journalist and the other one included in a sport section of The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Guardian – Nobody is better at being human, Professor Dawkins, least of all you
Sydney Morning Herald – The clod delusion: why Richard Dawkins is wrong on this one
Richard Dawkins Foundation – Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar
First People’s Disability Network of Australia is one of the organizations that advocate for recognition of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders as a disability. To date this condition is not considered a disability in Australia, and many people affected have been imprisoned because of behaviors that are associated with the disorder. In some cases, people are being held in prisons just because of this condition, and with no conviction or other legal basis. This organization argues that the legal system in Australia needs to offer more support to people who live with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, as well as provide better education regarding this condition, which includes lifelong damage of the brain structures often resulting in in an intellectual disability.
A policy in effect at the only fertility center in Calgary prohibiting clients from using donors of different “cultural backgrounds” has sparked public attention and caused significant debate. For potential users of the fertility programs at this clinic, this policy means they will not be provided a treatment that “would result in a future child appearing racially different than the recipient or the recipient’s partner”. This policy raises many debates; some scholars find this practice to be particularly problematic in today’s multicultural society, and further, this policy resembles eugenic practices, as in this case a private company is essentially deciding how a family ‘should’ look.
Calgary Herald – No ‘rainbow families’: Ethnic donor stipulation at fertility centre ‘floors’ local woman
National Post – No ‘prerogative’ to create ‘rainbow families’: Calgary’s only fertility centre bans donations that don’t match ethnicity
The news concerning an Australian couple who decided to leave a baby born with Down syndrome with the Thai surrogate who delivered him has recently provoked much reaction. Many parties, including surrogacy lawyers, charity organizations, and even government officials, have expressed their opinion regarding this event. Media over the world has speculated over the reasons and circumstances of this abandonment. Regardless of certain details of this case that are being widely discussed in the media, the sole act of leaving a child that does not fit the image of a ‘perfect’ newborn raises questions about what kind of people are worthy of attention, care, and love. This event further reminds us that debates regarding reproductive laws and policies must take into account history of eugenics.
North Carolina may soon offer compensation to the victims of the state’s post-war sterilization program. Following WWII and continuing to 1974, the state prevented more than 7600 people from having children, guided by the ideas of the eugenics program. Survivors who are alive today may have the opportunity to receive a monetary recompense from the state, who dedicated a $10 million fund for this purpose. Testimonies of the survivors gives us insight into the methods and scope of this violent practice that mostly affected women, disabled individuals, and people of lower economic status. Scholars engaged in this issue argue that the primary motivation for these procedures lies in reducing the cost of care of those who are considered a ‘burden’ to society.
Recently, the Virginia courts (where the famous case Buck vs. Bell occurred) saw yet another sentence that could be considered eugenic in nature. Jesse Lee Herald of Edinburg, Virginia was sentenced to time in prison, probation period, and a mandatory vasectomy (surgical procedure for sterilization in males). The crimes Herald committed, however, did not include sexual offences, but “child endangerment, hit and run driving and driving on a suspended license”. The court’s alleged motivation for this measure comes from the fact that Herald has seven or eight children with different women. Critics of this sentence argue that it violates Herald’s bodily autonomy, but also raises the question of class, as it is unlikely that a rich man would be sentenced in the same manner.
Jennie’s Story is a realistic drama that exhibits the effects of the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. Directed by Alex Hawkins, current director of the Walterdale Theatre, Jennie’s Story presents the life of a woman who discovers she was sterilized as a child. This play depicts the Alberta eugenics movement and the ferocious ways it influenced people’s lives. Jennie’s Story is at Walterdale Theatre in Edmonton July 2 to July 12, 2014.
In the 1990s, the Peruvian government legalized surgical sterilization as a part of its alleged campaign to reduce poverty in the country. According to Peru’s health ministry, 346 219 sterilizations were performed on women and 24 535 on men between 1993 and 2000. There is some evidence that Indigenous women were particularly targeted by the country’s sterilization program, and more than 2000 women have come forth to denounce cases of misinformed and coerced sterilization. Similarly, in Alberta there is evidence that certain groups of people were disproportionately targeted for sterilization procedures and policies including women, people of lower socioeconomic class, and First Nations people.
This story from Des Moines, Iowa reports on a mother who arranged a vasectomy for her 21-year-old intellectually disabled son “after becoming concerned that her son was in a relationship with a co-worker at a big-box store.” It does not mention the exact reason why the mother was concerned about her son being in a relationship, yet the article notes that according to court papers the young man “told his mother and the doctor who carried out the procedure that he did not want a vasectomy”. The Iowa Supreme Court became involved in the case and ruled that a vasectomy is a “major elective surgery” and requires permission from a judge. More important, however, is for disabled people themselves to be able to make decisions about birth control, reproduction, and parenting.
Wayne Colban, now a 73-year-old man, lived at Michener Centre for 22 years without any visits or contact from his family. After years searching for family members, Colban has recently found four living half-brothers who due to a “family secret” had no memory of him. Now reunited with his family, Colban talks about his experiences of loneliness and abuse when institutionalized: “For punishment … you heard of straightjackets? That’s what we were in because staff were pushing us. That’s what they did. They got a place called the quiet room and they locked us up in there.”
Michael O’Brien, a 27-year-old man with an intellectual disability, wants to marry the woman he’s been dating for over 3 years. However his parents, who are also his legal guardians, have successfully turned to the courts to stop the young man from getting married. Michael’s father, Timothy O’Brien, has said: “at this point in time, in my opinion, he lacks the ability to comprehend what a marriage contract entails.” Michael has appealed that decision, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently ruled that the case should indeed be reevaluated in order to determine whether Michael should be allowed to get married or not.
Paul and Hava, a married couple with intellectual disabilities in New York state sued the administrators of their group homes for not allowing them to live together after getting married. The couple now lives in their own one-bedroom apartment within the home. Still, their lawsuit against the group homes that denied them the chance to live together continues, as the couple hopes that all agencies in New York State will start to offer more housing options for married couples. Housing arrangements can significantly affect disabled people’s sexual opportunities and experiences, as group homes and supportive living arrangements often lack privacy and many have restrictive rules about dating, sexuality or pornography use.
Read the success story of Austin Underwood and Jessica Smith from Texas (United States), childhood sweethearts who both have Down Syndrome, currently planning their Western-themed wedding happening Summer 2014.
Systematic cases of forced abortions, sterilizations, and infanticide in North Korea are cited in the United Nations’ 2014 report on human rights violations, indicating active eugenic practices continue to occur:
Read Live Actions News – U.N. exposes North Korea’s rampant forced abortions, sterilizations, infanticide, and persecution of the disabled
United Nations – Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Highlighting the subject “What Kinds of People“, this article discusses the effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as experienced by a 15 year old young man. Morgan discusses the desire to one day have a family of his own, but echoes past debates in his worry that his children may also be affected by FASD. Despite celebrating Morgan’s many successes, among them a gift for music and the establishment of his own non-profit organization to raise awareness for FASD, this article nonetheless contributes to newgenic discourse, suggesting individuals affected by FASD are unable to lead a “normal life”.
Among the challenges faced by parents with disabilities are assumptions about their ability to care for a child. The following news articles discuss the experiences of several Canadian families challenging these negative stereotypes, and fighting for the right to have a family.
A striking news report highlighting contemporary connections to the historical eugenic practice of targeting ‘undesirables’ (in this case, individuals who had been imprisoned). Despite a 1979 ban by the State of California on forced sterilizations, as late as 2010 female prisoners report being coerced into tubal ligation surgeries.
Guardian News Story – California was sterilizing its female prisoners as late as 2010
Think Progress – California Prisons Illegally Sterilized Dozens of Women, Audit Finds
California State Auditor Report