Off With Their Heads

chopIn 2005 retired doctor, Owen Lister, suggested that disabled children would be better off guillotined. Lister was the Deputy Mayor of the Swindon Municipality at the time. Lister’s reasoning was that money spent on the care of children with disabilities would be better of spent elsewhere. Unsurprisingly the controversy that ensued from Lister’s comments led to him resigning. Even though he resigned he was unrepentant. Said Lister, “It shows how peculiar we are as a society on this matter that we spend this vast amount of money caring for disabled youngsters to very little purpose at all. It would be better spent on those who might actually benefit, such as cancer sufferers.” Off with their heads! A totally reasonable response to the issue – What the …?

This story, even though it was printed in 2005, is still doing the rounds on Facebook. What the story highlights is that many people in our society, more than we care to acknowledge, think that the value of the lives of people with a disability is somehow of less value than for people who do not have a disability. No wonder so many people with a disability have such low self-esteem!

I recall a horrific story that occurred soon after current Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, was elected. Cameron’s Government has embarked on a tough policy of reassessing people with a disability who receive welfare payments. Soon after Cameron’s election there was a horrific story of a wheelchair using man being tipped out of his wheelchair and abused. As the story goes the man was accosted by a group of thugs and hauled out of his wheelchair. The thugs stood around him and hurled abuse. They are alleged to have shouted at the man, “Get up and walk you bludger.”

A succession of Australian Labor and Liberal Governments have also targeted people with a disability who receive the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The argument is that it is better for these people to work rather than be receiving the pension. There are also many thousands of people with a disability, according to the Government, who can work and are abusing the system by receiving the DSP. Rather than have these people be a burden on the public purse the Government wants them all to go to work. However, if it was that easy for people with a disability to get work then the employment rate for people with a disability would have increased. It has not; in fact it has remained stagnant for over 40 years. This really shows just how our society values people with a disability.

I read once of an experiment that was conducted by a man who was blind. This man sent out two separate blocks of 100 job applications. In one set of applications he indicated that he is blind. For these applications he received not one offer of an interview. In other set of applications he did not disclose the fact that he is blind. For these applications he received 73 offers for an interview. That’s pretty damning evidence on just how society views people with a disability isn’t it? By and large society seems to view people with a disability as incapable and too much of a problem to consider seriously. Prejudice is rampant.

Not only is the wider community guilty of undervaluing people with a disability in employment but the Government is too. Why else would the representation of people with a disability employed by the Australian Public Service have decreased by more than half since the 1980s? At one stage people with a disability made up more than 6% of people working in the public service. This figure is now under 3%. This is the Government that claims that people with a disability are a drain on the economy and need to work. Perhaps it should help the cause a little more.

The case of Kyla Puhle is a sad and glaring example of how the wider society values the lives people with a disability. Kyla’s disabilities required constant care. Caring for Kyla would have been very stressful. Kyla received respite support to address some of her needs. For some unknown reason her mother, Angela Puhle, and her father decided to remove Kyla from the care that had helped to provide for some of her needs.

Instead Kyla was left at home in a bean-bag and severely neglected. She died at the age of 27. When she was found dead she weighed just 12 kilograms. She had been neglected to the point that she had starved to death. She had been neglected by both of her parents.The father was later to commit suicide in shame. Angela Puhle received a suspended sentence for manslaughter. She was required to pay a $1000 bond.

It is true that Angela Puhle’s life was tragic, even hard. A host of excuses were put forward in her defence. Central to these excuses was that Angela Puhle’s treatment of her daughter was a coping strategy. As Stella Young pointed out in her hard hitting article, Disability is no Justification for Murder, “ …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.” What is the price for the life of a person with a disability? A $1000 suspended sentence. Regardless of the circumstances of Angela Puhle’s life, the punishment handed down by the court says a lot about how society values the lives of people with a disability doesn’t it?

In Australia this year the country laughed when a footballer set a dwarf alight. To add insult to injury, when told of this story on national television, one of the highest ranked sports administrators in the land slapped the desk and guffawed out loud. The footballer in question tried to excuse his behaviour as just having a laugh. In this country last week carers of children with a disability, tired of waiting in despair as their children suffer in pain in wheelchairs that they have grown out of, have had to embark on de-humanising fundraising campaigns to replace their child’s wheelchair. Would any of this happen if society really valued people with a disability? I think not.

I, for one, know who I would like to use the guillotine on – and it is not people with a disability.

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