The Worldly Wisdom of Disability Rights
It's comforting to regard mistreatment of the disabled as a bygone medieval artifact, but such a view isn't accurate. In many countries, people with physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities remain locked up as they have been for centuries -- or are forced to fend for themselves on the streets. In the world's poorer nations, disabled children rarely go to school. In more than a few nations, they're forbidden to marry -- and generally shut out of the work world.
The eugenics movement of the Nazi era may have evaporated, but its legacy lives on in the scorn and silence that isolates the disabled from the rest of society. The United States can claim no superiority on this score. In the last century, America's disabled patients were deliberately refrigerated, fed radioactive isotopes, infected with hepatitis, injected with poisons and driven to psychosis -- all in the name of research.
Such cruelty was enabled by the bizarre myth that disabled people are "not quite human" -- a notion that still lingers in some corners of the world. Transcending it altogether will require the help of the U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to approve the disability-rights treaty this fall. Its purpose is to "ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights" by the 650 million global citizens with disabilities. Who's against that?