Extreme Prejudice and the Survival of the Fittest

protest.jpegAs Ive aged, Ive become increasingly disgusted with the human race. As if it werent bad enough that we engage in the most absurd, wasteful and personally depreciating behaviors, there seems to be nothing we enjoy more than giving each other a hard time. People, it seems, can be stunningly unkind to one another.

Merriam-Webster defines the word prejudice as an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. By that description, it appears that many of us live with prejudices and we rarely make effort to keep them under wraps.

In the 1890s, the United States stood squarely in the absolute nadir of race relations amongst its citizenry. Lynchings of Black Americans was at an all-time high and racial segregation was the law of the land.

An activist by the name of Ida B. Wells-Barnett took this hardship to minds of Americans by publishing a newspaper titled The Free Speech and Headlight. In her publication, she called upon Americans to cease their violence against one another and to stop the lynchings of Black Americans. Her efforts to address the problems and violence created by extreme prejudice earned her tremendous backlash, retribution and even death threats. But she, like any true champion, would not be quieted.

Instead, Wells-Barnett took her plight to the United Kingdom and gained international support in her efforts to fight racism and prejudice.

Throughout world history, a long and shameful legacy of prejudice exists. Only the courage, pluck and determination of our planets true activists have served to quell our hatreds and improve relations for our citizens. Though were far from finished, we often applaud such advocates and encourage our own children to follow their honorable lead.

If we, as conscientious Americans, can recognize racial prejudice as the reproachful and uncalled-for practice it is, why then can we not apply that same principle to discrimination against our disabled citizens?

Having been involved with the case of Terri Schiavo in Florida for some two and a half years, Ive been witness to a form of prejudice I never knew existed. Extreme prejudice against societys most vulnerable members.

Terri is a 41 year-old woman who suffered significant brain injury following a mysterious collapse in 1990. Her husband has petitioned the courts for the authority to cause her death by removing her only physical dependence, a gastric feeding tube, while her immediate family has struggled to block his efforts. Her case represents one of the nations most polarizing and it is one that will likely shame us all for years to come.

Though Terri has advocates from disability interest groups, right-to-life groups and human rights groups, the media for some inexplicable reason has found it appropriate to apply its own brand of extreme prejudice to her and the impact on the publics view of her is readily apparent.

On February 26, 2005, columnist and talk-radio host Daniel Ruth discussed Terris case at length. He took tremendous affront at the fact that Floridas social service agency the Department of Children and Families had recently launched an investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect against the disabled woman. In a column published the following day, Ruth bemoaned what he saw as an unnecessary delay in the pursuit of Terris death.

And once again, Bush has abused the powers of his office by injecting the Department of Children and Families into the Schiavo case, Ruth fussed.

Since the Department has a statutorily mandated duty to intervene in cases of suspected abuse and neglect, I dont find it entirely appropriate for them to decline investigating such allegations against Terri Schiavo whether or not a columnist approves.

He continues: And even if DCF is given the bum's rush by Greer, the agency will appeal, thus leading to delay, delay, delay, muddle, muddle, muddle.

It is quite disturbing to think that someone would advocate for the death of an innocent, disabled women over the protections she is guaranteed under Floridas guardianship and abuse laws. But, I probably shouldnt be surprised. Terri Schiavo, after all, seems to be getting in everyones way.

Another Florida columnist, Randy Schultz, also criticized the states involvement in protecting the retained rights of one of Floridas disabled citizens.

In a February 27, 2005 editorial of the states intervention, he writes: It's all grandstanding. Not that anyone has cared up to this point.

What a desperately sad commentary. That no one should care about how our elderly, disabled and vulnerable citizens are treated by their guardians or the state agencies that are charged with ensuring their protections is an utterly flagrant display of intolerance for people who are inconvenient.

Even more disheartening is the St. Petersburg Times, a newspaper that has published regular hit-pieces against Terri Schiavo, her rights as an incapacitated person and those who would like to see those retained rights honored. To the Times, calling for Terris death has become a hobby.

What does all of this say about our own ethics? Are we nothing more than bigots in compassionate clothing? For the record, removing food and fluids from a disabled, but healthy person in order to cause their death is not letting them go. Its making them go. Last time I checked, that was murder.

Why is it then that some Florida columnists advocate murder? Based on their own assessments of lifes quality and their own frustration at the state of Florida doing right by its residents, the hate against Terri Schiavo flows in Florida newspapers like nothing Ive ever witnessed in my life. Nevermind that these writers have a good many of their facts wrong or that Terri Schiavo has retained rights that must be enforced. She should die, damnit, because they have grown weary of her. Shes an inconvenient reminder that no one is immortal or safe from the prospects of becoming disabled one day.

Some people may not see the comparison between Terri Schiavo and the racial prejudice our history marks as appropriate. Indeed, every group has their own struggles that no outsider can possibly appreciate. However, I find the association entirely apt on one very simple level:

Either we genuinely respect the lives, rights and liberties of each and every member of the human race regardless of ethnicity, background, belief, gender and physical limitations or we are nothing more than todays lynch mob.

Source: Pamela F. Hennessy is a marketing and media executive in Florida and has volunteered for the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation (www.terrisfight.org) since November of 2002.




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