Thursday, 16 August 2012

Disability, the Paralympics and Dr Guttman

Great to see The Best of Men on BBC 2 tonight. A fact based drama about Dr Ludwig Guttman, Stoke Mandevile Hospital and the birth of the parlaympic movement. It was salutary to hear the harsh and pessimistic views portrayed by Dr Guttman's opponents who felt that 'cripples' should just be looked after and resign themselves to a quiet, tedious and friustrating life. Thank God for Dr (later, Sir) Ludwig Guttman who would not accept that paraplegics should be merely cared for, and so encouraged them to stretch themselves and play a variety of competitive sports.

Ironically as our culture has become increasingly focused on disability rights (which is surely a very good thing) with equality and diversity training a feature of most occupations, it has moved in an opposite direction in its attitude towards disability in the unborn. Much ante-natal screening is not just looking for life threatening abnormalities but for conditions such as Down's, Spina Bifida andTrisomy 13 and 18. Now I don't underestimate the huge challenge of caring for and bringing up a child with any of these abnormalities, but I am concerned by what  seems to be a growing attitude not dissimilar to the opponents of Dr Guttman who wished to hide away the paraplegics of Stoke Mandeville.

In an excellent blog post by Peter Saunders he reports on a article in the current issue of the North American journal Pediatrics. The article reflects on the attitude of parents who have children with Trisomy 13 and 18. So surprising were the findings that the Canadian nation press picked up on it,
Medical textbooks are grim and bleak about babies born with genetic codes considered “incompatible with life.” But the study says parents who have these children speak of the joy found in what is almost inevitably a short lifespan. These children, they say, can enrich a family rather than destroy it.

Although concerned with ethnicity rather than ability, maybe the old Sunday school song has  it right,
Red and yellow black and white all are precious  in His sight.
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