Friday, September 23, 2005

Who's suffering?

In a WaPo story about the Roberts hearings, I came across this paragraph:
Sen. Sam Brownback, who skipped most of the hearing, didn't agree with that bit about law trumping philosophy. The Kansas Republican arrived at the hearing room with a 14-year-old girl suffering from Down syndrome and, as the smiling girl stood behind him, made an impassioned anti-abortion argument. We "celebrate her," Brownback said, "and yet in the womb, 80 percent are killed."

What bothers me about it is the description of the smiling 14 year old girl "suffering" from Down syndrome. It reminds me of descriptions of kids "suffering" from autism so well parodied in Getting the Truth Out. Excuse me, but clearly from the story she isn't suffering, so what is the purpose of that adjective? Emotional manipulation?

I have mixed feelings about talking about people who "suffer" from what are offically classified as disorders or might also be considered deviations from the norm. Yes, it is often difficult for these individuals and their families to function "normally" in our society. But it makes it sound like the condition itself is the source of the suffering, as opposed to the barriers society places in our path. Yes, I said "our" path because as an autistic adult I do consider myself to be well outside that norm. Better at some things than others, and no stranger to discomfort and despair, nonetheless most of my life I was suffering much more from the way people treated me than from any inherent disability.

And if that 14 year old girl could be said to have been suffering, I'd say it was because she was being bandied around as a republican senator's anti-abortion poster child. But thankfully, she seemed happily unaware of the degree to which she was being manipulated.

Which still doesn't make it right.


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