March 1st, 2018
It isn’t abstract. Nothing about it is distant. That may be the crux of why Disability Day of Mourning has such resonance. Filicide is not a problem the average Autistic person or other member of the disability community will experience. The list of names is relatively short, though it is a harm its perpetrators would, almost by definition seek to conceal in most cases. Though it seems likely there are unreported incidents, it is probably a fairly low-incidence problem. The reason we mourn and remember is not that most of us will be victims of filicide. It is that fillicide is just a particularly egregious expression of a problem affecting us all.
People with disabilities are too regularly treated as less than fully human. This is particularly true for anyone who has an intellectual disability, does not communicate with words, or relies on technology to survive. Almost everyone who has had the opportunity to go to college or graduate school, and has taken an ethics or philosophy course at that level, has encountered casual debate about whether or not people with this or that kind or degree of disability should be allowed to go on living. Voicing the opinion that certain people should be allowed to die, though ample resources exist to keep them alive, or should even be killed is relatively socially acceptable. Voicing those views does not necessarily lead to social ostricization.
Unfortunately, these attitudes, and the debates they drive about whether some lives are worthy to go on, and whether some people should be entitled to the same legal and human rights as everyone else, are not confined to classrooms. They crop up in current events, too, in the idea that locking people up regardless of whether they have ever shown any violent propensities is acceptable or that it is not important for certain kinds of people to be able to go out in public. It isn’t hard to see that people with disabilities are not always considered full people.
The names we read, the ones we remember, tangibly demonstrate what that sentiment looks like when it is taken to its logical conclusion. If disabled people aren’t really people, if we live less than 100% of the value of human lives, killing us is not as wrong as murder generally is. Depending on the particulars, it may not be very wrong at all. When we remember those people, when we read their names and assert that they were real, valuable human beings by remembering them, we’re respecting the dead. We’re also protecting the living. We’re insisting that, despite what some people say, every single human being is worthwhile.
Memory matters. Remembering says something about the value of the lives we remember and the value of lives like them still underway. Day of Mourning is about the dead, about remembering people who deserved better, asserting that their lives were worthwhile and that what happened to them was unacceptable. It is also about asserting that we, the living, deserve better, too.