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This is a post for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.
Disablism means discriminating against people due to their disability. It's unjust and unfair. Disablist attitudes abound in our society and worsened in the past few years as a result of robust campaigning by certain political parties and media outlets depicting disabled people as lazy, scrounging cheats.
Disabled lives are accorded less value than the lives of people not currently disabled. This even applies to children. I've been appalled over the years by the steady stream of news stories about parents killing or attempting to kill their disabled children. And each time the tragedy of a life lost is portrayed as understandable because, after all, the dead disabled person was such a burden. The parent who killed the child is described as devoted, loving and most of all, long-suffering.
Last week it happened again. In England, 4 year-old Olivia Clarence and her 3 year-old twin brothers, Max and Ben were found dead in their home and their mother Tania has been charged with their murder. The 3 young children were killed while their father was abroad with their older sister.
I first read about this awful crime via an article in The Independent with a headline describing the woman subsequently accused of murder as a "devoted mother". On social media outlets, people rushed to defend and explain Tania Clarence's actions. The justification as far as they are concerned, is that the dead children all had type II spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that can cause fatal respiratory problems and shorten life expectancy. This is just a small selection of tweets about the case. Try to imagine how they would read if the murdered children did not have a medical condition or disability:
So sad. You can't judge unless you are in that life, don't try - just have some compassion http://t.co/HEVcDj9hzA
— Hannah Cock (@drhannahrc) April 26, 2014
Thoughts are with Tania Clarence who must be going through hell. It's awful what she has done but equally horrific for her and her husband.
— Dava Roopchand (@Dava73) April 29, 2014
Pity @SantoshVKalyan received abuse for tweet re. Tania Clarence euthanising her kids. An issue that merits discussion, not demonising.
— Jacques Rousseau (@JacquesR) April 29, 2014
"@margiedgander: Feel very heartbroken by the story of the Clarence family #TaniaClarence"...> Only a #motherslove can explain it
— Al Zoya (@Al_Zoya) April 28, 2014
Tania Clarence - who killed her three terminally ill disabled children, was a devoted mum, but couldn't cope & cracked under the strain.
Especially vile was the follwing tweet from a South African MP:
— catherine henderson (@catsatwork) April 27, 2014
I and many others retweeted this with criticism which caused her to think again about what she had written. A few days after posting it she deleted the tweet and apologised for having offended people saying she didn't mean it and that she's a nice person. I'm glad she apologised but that doesn't make up for an MP thinking it was correct to share that awful opinion in the first place.
There's a Mumsent thread in which the mother accused of murder is accorded nothing but pity with posts on the "terrible" and "intolerable" burden she had faced, and in which she's referred to as a "Poor, poor lady...hope she's getting the support she needs."
On a post on Irish site The Journal some are attempting to justify the murder of 3 children aged 3 and 4 years old with comments such as, "The children all had genetic life limited conditions . Maybe she wanted to end their suffering. No one knows what it is like to watch your children dying." and "Unless you can walk in the shoes of a mum with a sick child, let alone three sick children, you cannot possibly judge her actions."
I do not need to walk in anyone's shoes to know that murder is wrong. These children had their most basic human right taken from them. What happened to them is cruel and despicable. It is no less wrong than if they were typically developing little kids. When people explain the murder of disabled children as resulting from caregiver burnout or limited service provision, they are putting blame on the victim. Many if not most crimes are committed by people in desperate situations and those criminals don't have countless supporters asking us "to walk in their shoes" and "not to judge". As Paula C. Durbin-Westby wrote (on the all too frequent murder of autistic children by their caregivers),
"No one finds it necessary to defend people who murder because they are poor, stoned, broke, or in other difficult situations. And they certainly don't blame the victim. And they don't ask you to walk in the murderer's shoes. And they don't tell you to shut up if you won't."
So I will continue to judge and to work towards a society in which disabled people are respected not treated as burdens and disability is recognised as part of the human spectrum of experience.