Autistic Future
March 1st, 2018

Disability Day of Mourning 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.