Well, at last, here it is. Watch, enjoy, share, like.
Well, at last, here it is. Watch, enjoy, share, like.
Interesting article on the construction of disability in China by Yee-Fui Ng (Sessional Lecturer and PhD Candidate, Monash University Law School). The abstract: This article explores the tension between the Chinese government’s strong engagement in disability rights and simultaneous focus on ‘quality births’, which results in the abortion of disabled foetuses. At a broader level, the author examines the politicised and cultural construction of disability in China by scrutinising how the ‘disabled’ are defined, administered, policed and governed in postsocialist China.
In November, I posted on the Australian Senate Inquiry into the forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has just made its powerful, eye-opening submission to the Inquiry. And there’s something you can do, pronto, that may make a difference here: endorse or support the submission. Anyone who thinks that forced sterilization is a “thing of the past” shoudl read this submission. First, from the submission (p.20),
There is a historical precedent in several countries including for example the USA (until the 1950s), in Canada and Sweden (until the 1970s), and Japan (until 1996) indicating that torture of women and girls with disabilities by sterilisation occurred on a collective scale – that is, mass forced sterilisation. This policy was rationalised by a pseudo-scientific theory called eugenics – the aim being the eradication of a wide range of social problems by preventing those with ‘physical, mental or social problems’ from reproducing. Although eugenic policies have now been erased from legal statutes in most countries, vestiges still remain within some areas of the legal and medical establishments and within the attitudes of some sectors of the community:
“Disabled people should not have babies.” Continue reading
Here’s the poster for the upcoming panel, Reproductive Autonomy: Control of Sexuality that we’re hosting this Wednesday as part of the U of Alberta’s Pride Week. The sesssion will feature Lise Gotell and Lane Mandlis as speakers, with Moyra Lang and Rob Wilson performing an interpretative dance (ok, perhaps not, … but we’ll do something useful … or at least will be there). Please print and post, or distribute electronically. Text only version included as well.
Wednesday March 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm in Education South Building at the University of Alberta the Living Archives on Eugenics is sponsoring a panel discussion featuring Professor Lise Gotell, Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies and Dr. Lane Mandlis, with Moyra Lang, and Professor Rob Wilson. ASL interpreting services will be offered at this event. Find us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/270019033131796/?fref=ts
A Senate committee was recently established in Australia to review existing law and social policy concerning the sterilization of people with disabilities.
It seems that the inquiry is a response to public response (surprise? outrage?) to finding out that this practice continues in Australia under state and territorial legislation, and beyond it.
I suspect that the commission will find that Continue reading
When the Social Security Act was being written by Congress in 1939, no one thought that it might be possible to conceive a child posthumously. In 2003, 18 months after the death of her husband, Karen Capato, a Florida resident, gave birth to his (her husband’s) twins (see article). Robert, Karen’s husband, preserved his sperm in a sperm bank and gave written consent for its use by his wife before he died.
After her husband’s death, Karen applied for social security survivor benefits for the twins, but was denied because Florida laws recognize the eligibility of inheriting property only if the children who are to inherit property are named in a last will and testament. This apparently also translates into an ineligibility of the twins to receive survivor benefits. Robert could not have written the twins into his will because he did not know that they were going to exist at some point in the future. Regardless of whether or not he discussed possibilities with his wife, he had no way of knowing the genders or the number of children he would father posthumously.
There is, to my mind, a question of whether Karen’s twins can really be called “survivors” since they did not literally survive their father. And since it was Karen’s own choice to have them after her husband was already dead, perhaps counting on survivor benefits for aid was a tad premature and maybe even irresponsible. These worries aside, however, it is interesting to live at a time when technological advances create such problems for the legal system. After all, there is no question regarding biological parentage in this case. Half of Robert’s DNA had been willingly transferred to a future generation.
While thinking about what sorts of people there should be, we think in terms of human variation. However, we don’t always stop to consider why a variety of humans are “people” in the first place and what exactly makes them into “people.” It would be difficult (and likely hopelessly so) to argue that a sperm cell is a person. And yet, at the time of conception, that was all that remained of Robert. I would think that it would be absurd to insist that Karen’s twins are essentially fatherless (it is true that their father is dead, but it is not the case that they have not been fathered). It would be equally absurd to think of the doctors who prepared the fertilized egg as fathers (the medical team has no parental responsibilities toward the twins). Although the twins were not a result of sexual intercourse between Robert and Karen, their conception is an instance of sexual reproduction (Robert’s and Karen’s genetic material is present in equal proportions in the resulting offspring). So when asked who their parents are, the twins should refer to Robert and Karen and not just Karen or Karen and the hospital staff or even more absurdly to Karen and Robert’s sperm. So did Robert father the twins? I’d say he did! If that’s the case, then does he qualify to be represented under the general question of what sorts of “people” there should be? When we think about human variation, do the dead count? I think they do! If, by recognizing all kinds of people as “people,” we implicitly assume that we have duties toward them, then by making conceptual space for Robert and other deceased individuals (this also includes all of us at some point), we ought to recognize our duties toward the dead. Perhaps that should inform the court’s decision in the case of the twins even if they are not literally “survivors.”
from The National Post, by Michael Shevell
This NP article is itself taken from a longer article in the January 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.
Though bespectacled and slight of build, Tommy Douglas is a giant of 20th Century Canadian history. His iconic, indeed mythic, status within the Canadian historical landscape is exemplified by his selection, in 2004, as “The Greatest Canadian” in a CBC-mandated competition above such luminaries as former Prime Ministers Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Lester Bowles Pearson, scientist Frederick Banting, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. This honour reflects Douglas’ role as the “father” of Canadian Medicare, which has emerged, for better or worse, as a defining feature of a Canadian national identity.
Medicare has in effect emerged as a statement of national values. Values that include compassion, fairness, tolerance and equality; values that are not selectively applied, but are extended to embrace even the most vulnerable of Canadians.
Eugenics, by contrast, concerns itself at its most fundamental level with the selective breeding of humanity to improve the human species. At a practical level, eugenics in the 20th century involved the removal from the gene pool by various means those classes of individuals considered “inferior stock,” whose deficits had an inherited basis that was immutable for future generations. These classes included those suffering from mental illness, intellectual disability or what was characterized as social diseases (e.g, alcoholism, delinquency).
The broad principles of universal-access medicare contradict those that can be utilized to justify the practice of eugenics. It would be paradoxical for an individual to support both. Yet Tommy Douglas did so with moral persuasion. Careful analysis of this contradiction reveals with hindsight further paradoxes that merit consideration. … read more
The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, portrays a futuristic society where babies are genetically engineered according to parental references. The film features a society that consists almost exclusively of such artificially built individuals, with those who are born in the archaic, natural manner occupying the fringes of this society. In order to protect the rights of what are referred to as the “valids” and thereby keep out the inferior “invalids,” each individual’s genetic material is constantly sampled and monitored. Every person’s DNA is stored in a database, making multiple scans and random genetic sweeps in the workplace very efficient. The story follows an “invalid” who has a dream of becoming an astronaut, a job open only to the genetically enhanced elite.
But my intention here is not to provide a synopsis of the film, which is very good and is certainly well worth the time it takes to watch. Rather, I wanted to Continue reading
Sweden, “one of 17 [countries] in the European Union,” may soon change a law that requires transgendered people to become sexually sterilized if they decide to officially change gender. Sweden has made moves to repeal the law in January, only to be stopped by the Christian Democrat Party. However, this party has recently changed their mind, allowing the repeal to go through.
This move was partially in thanks to an online petition, by AllOut (
), which gained 80,000 international signatures to repeal the law. However, the date for repealing the law is still pending.
Countries that still require sterilization include France, Italy, Romania, Poland, Greece, and Portugal. For a map outlining the current status of European sterilization, you can link here:
The Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11, located just north of Minneapolis, changed its policy of neutrality regarding questions of sexual orientation in favour of active affirmation of the dignity of all students regardless of their race, disability, or sexual orientation. The New York Times reports:
In response to conflicting pressures, Anoka-Hennepin officials had devised an unusual policy, directing teachers to remain neutral on any questions involving sexual orientation. But some teachers said that this hampered their ability to support gay students and that the overall climate was still hostile. Last month, the district rescinded the neutrality policy in favor of a requirement to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students” regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities or other factors. In addition, according to the new agreement, the district will strengthen measures to prevent, detect and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation, hire a full-time “harassment-prevention” official, bolster mental health counseling and identify harassment “hot spots” on the campuses of middle and high schools.
However, the Anoka-Hennepin Parents Action League (see their website here) complained that “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” (see The New York Times). The Parents Action League website states that
Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.
Two things are quite striking here and both are examples of narrow-minded groups making students worse off by making themselves vocal. First, and most obviously, the reported statement that “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” is outrageous in itself especially since it implies that what I take to mean the majority (that is, the heterosexual kids) are better served if ‘gay’ kids are not protected from bullying. I am not sure whether the parents who agreed on such a formulation in their e-mail were appealing to some seriously misguided utilitarian calculation or whether they were just expressing their support for bullying based on sexual orientation? Either way, the statement represents an unusually ugly thought!
Second, the statement on the Parents Action League website is a further testament to the dangers of giving narrow minded and aggressively fearful groups power over the education of future generations. Statements like: “[t]eaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” is reminiscent of burning the “Satanic” Harry Potter Books (see the 2001 BBC News Story). All such practices will do (practices of withdrawing educational content from the curriculum and relegating it to the home), and I imagine that this is the hope of the Parents Action League, is to perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation precisely because homophobic parents seem to want to shield their children from any statements that confer dignity and self-worth upon homosexual students.
Parents should certainly play a greater supportive role in their children’s education. Having had teaching experience at the secondary education level, I have seen my share of too much resentment toward teachers for the low achievement of their child and too little active participation in the child’s education. Of course, this is not descriptive of all, or even most, parents. However, participation in a child’s education should not come in the form of lobbying to truncate the educational experience of students. If schools are to teach only the core subjects (math, social, science, and english), and remain silent (since being neutral in this context just means staying silent) on all other issues, then the quality of citizens leaving the school system will be poor indeed.
Fortunately, the Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 went ahead with its new policy. Perhaps once they eradicate bullying based on sexual orientation in their hallways, they will start to fight the source of bullying, namely the opinions and beliefs of homophobic parents!
It would seem that erotic images really do sell and that they infiltrate our society from all directions. Aside from the obvious venues for erotic images and films, pictures of handsome individuals in provocative poses are plastered all over our cities and flashed, it would seem, at every conceivable opportunity both on the internet and on television. However, images are for those who can see, which means that a substantial population is “spared” this constant barrage of depictions. Questions of morality aside, pornography sells! In fact, Lisa J. Murphy’s Tactile Mind is one example of how erotic imagery continues to fill newer and more numerous social niches. Murphy’s Tactile Mind is “a handmade thermoform book consisting of 17, 3-D tactile photographs on white thermoform plastic pages with the visual image and descriptive Braille accompaniment” (see website). The book is sold for an extravagant $225, but single pages can also be purchased for $25 a page. Another example of such “niche-filling” is “Porn for the Blind,” which is
a website which purports to offer sexual stimuli for blind people over the internet. The website is composed of a white background with a list of links to mp3 sound clips of pornographic content contributed by volunteers. A ‘translator’ will watch preview clips of videos and give a play-by-play of the events. Contributors are not allowed to use sexual words when describing existing videos and must give purely clinical descriptions of the events. (see citation)
Although, on the one hand, it might be argued that erotic images are inappropriate even in socially sanctioned contexts, it does seem a bit paternalistic to do those who can only read braille a moral favour by denying them access to erotic material. From my understanding, the two examples I provided above are quite censored as it is. The images in Murphy’s book lack faces and are featured only in single poses while the mp3 descriptive recordings do not use sexual words in their descriptions.
There is certainly a debate over the appropriateness of pornography (see Natalie Purcell’s “Feminism and Pornography: Building Sensitive Research and Analytic Approaches”), but at least now it’s everybody’s discussion!
An article at Mother Jones looks into an obscure Swedish law that requires those who want to legally change their gender to first get divorced and sterilized. The article uses this law to transition to a discussion on the long history of eugenic practice and sterilization in Sweden — a practice that surprises many, considering the general impression of Sweden as a bastion for liberal ideals and equality.
Sweden is considered extremely gay-friendly, with one of the highest rates of popular support for same-sex marriage, and more than half the population supports gay adoption. Arguing that the current law is both unpopular and abusive, the country’s moderate and liberal parties want to see it repealed. In response, the small but powerful Christian Democrat party formed a coalition with other right-of-center parties to join in upholding the requirement for sterilization. End result: a proposal for new legislation that allows trans—a preferred term for many people who undergo gender reassignment—to be married but continues to force them to be sterilized.
Head on over to Mother Jones to give it a read. Also check out another article about the same story in the Swedish press.
In an effort to avoid gender stereotyping, Beck Laxton and partner Kieran Cooper concealed the gender of their son from the world. The gender neutrally named Sasha has now turned five and is starting school. Prior to the commencement of formative school years, Sasha has been given the choice to dress in clothes that appealed to him, be they hand-me-downs from an older sister or an older brother. When Sasha turned five, his parents were forced to reveal his gender, which means that Sasha will have to get used to being perceived as a boy by his peers. Although the school requires different uniforms for boys and girls, Sasha’s mom is intervening by letting Sasha wear a girl’s blouse with his pants.
Last year, a different couple made a similar decision not to reveal their child’s gender. Some psychiatric experts voiced their concerns:
“To have a sense of self and personal identity is a critical part of normal healthy development,” Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC News. “This blocks that and sets the child up for bullying, scapegoating and marginalization.”
The article continues:
But as parents well know, bullying is hard for any child to avoid. It’s more important to raise someone who’s confident enough in himself to overcome peer pressure. It’s also important to have his parents have his back.
The question of personal identity is interesting as gender is certainly a big part of it. However, that’s precisely the problem couples like Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper are attempting to avoid. The question of bullying, scapegoating and marginalization is a bit trickier since such actions are certainly a product of dogmatically ingrained gender stereotyping, but they will not cease to exist just because Sasha’s parents have grown past them. Although bullying may well be hard for any child to avoid, some children do get bullied more than others. And although Laxton and Cooper are trying to inculcate a sense of self and others in Sasha, which they hope will be lacking gender stereotyping, are they also not sacrificing their child’s emotional and physical safety by setting him up for potential bullying? It is quite important to raise someone who’s confident enough in him or herself to overcome peer pressure, but it could also be the case that exposing a child to more risk of bullying may have an adverse effect on his or her confidence.
That’s not to say that Sasha will be bullied, but it will depend on his environment. If Laxton and Cooper chose an appropriate school, perhaps their goal of raising their son to be confident in himself and have a valuable dual perspective on gender will not be compromised by the very gender stereotypes they are attempting to undermine. “Egalia,” a preschool in Stockholm, Sweden comes to mind (as an example of the kind of environment in which Sasha could flourish). Staff do not use words like “him” or “her,” but rather a made-up neutral term and students are encouraged to do the same. Moreover, traditional “boy” and “girl” toys are spatially integrated so as to obliterate any value systems associated with stereotypical gender preferences. For those interested, here is the article.
Bullying has not ceased in spite of a laudable movement to curb it. Although Laxton and Cooper’s hearts may be in the right place, they have influence only over Sasha’s worldview and not that of other children (who get theirs from their own parents or guardians). Are they putting Sasha at risk, as Dr. Eugene Beresin claims? And if the answer is yes, are they entitled to make such choices for Sasha if they lead to increased risk of bullying, which could potentially be developmentally as well as physically harmful?
Last month the United Nations announced that we’ve arrived at a human population of more than 7 billion people, sounding a call for alarm to provide targeted reproductive services for the 215 women worldwide that do not have access to reproductive services, according the UN Population Fund.
Population panic is not new. In the early 19th century, Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus claimed that the dangers of population growth would put human civilization in jeopardy. Malthus did not support keeping the poor alive through charitable means and protested the Poor Laws of the time, which provided food aid and support for poor citizens and set the groundwork for the modern welfare state. Despite the fact that Malthusian population theory was proven to be erroneous- his work has been tremendously influential, most importantly, in evolutionary biology. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling book ‘The Population Bomb’ once again raised alarmist, doomsday predictions about the danger of population growth causing crises of apocalyptic proportions. His predictions were also inaccurate.
There is no question that we are facing a wide range of environmental and financial crises and far too many women lack access and choice in reproductive medicine. However, in the face of doomsday fears of scarcity, targeted population control of specific groups based on class, medical status, race and other social determinants has been a troubling historical trend. The question is not ‘if’ population is a problem; but ‘who’ gets targeted in population control programs. Since the 1920s, targeted and eugenic population control in marginalized populations has been present across North and South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe. Anecdotally, we can estimate it to be happening, or have happened all over the world. This past summer at the 9th Annual Conference in Ethics in Development in Pennsylvania, a medical researcher from Nigeria approached me following presentation of my paper on sterilization in the Americas, to say that forced sterilization surgery in tribal communities in South and Western Africa has been happening for many years and went on to describe a personal account. Belief that these incidents of reproductive abuse represent collateral damage in the more pressing fight for contraception access has cloaked the deeper Malthusian ideology that lives who cannot provide for themselves are ‘fertility liabilities’.
The Reuters humanitarian news service, Alertnet, recently quoted Parvinder Singh, of ActionAid India on the relationship between fears of scarcity and population: “the issue of population cannot be seen divorced from the aspect of resource or energy footprint,” However, Singh continued to note that: “the largest drain continues to be in the West which have traditionally consumed, and continue to, massive volumes of resources because of a life-style and purchasing power that far exceeds that of so-called high population poorer countries.” Research has demonstrated that raising quality of life for women and their families leads to a drop in fertility- so much so that the world’s richest countries are fearing a further ‘drop’ in their national populations. The recent US recession has created a record low in fertility, leading to fears that there will be ‘not enough’ children born to sustain the national economy. So, not enough of one group- but too many of another? On what basis are these determinations made? On relative value to the economy?
If we are to make progress against this historical trend of using population panic to make authoritarian determinations over which lives have value for reproduction, we have to own up to the pervasive Malthusian ideology that views fertility in the developed world as a valuable resource and developing world fertility as a global liability
Pasted below is the text from this call for submissions for an art exhibit to be held in Edmonton and to run from late October through November of this year.
Anne Pasek, the principal force behind this initiative, is an intern on the Living Archives project this summer. As part of her internship, and with support from several other interns, she has arranged for the upcoming exhibition.
Please circulate this call for submissions, and be sure to attend the exhibition later this year. Also, note the pre-exhibit workshops being held the last Tuesday of July, August, and September, as you may be interested in attending some or all of these as well.
Call for Submissions
The Collective Memory Project:
Responses to Eugenics in Alberta
Artists and community members are invited to submit artwork to a forthcoming exhibition addressing the legacy and future inheritance of eugenic ideas in Alberta. Exploring forgotten narratives, lost histories, and contemporary anxieties, The Collective Memory Project will investigate and make visible the process through which personhood is unequally distributed in society.
JOHN DOSSETOR HEALTH ETHICS CENTRE
HEALTH ETHICS SEMINAR AND HEALTH ETHICS WEEK EVENT
Advances in Genetic Testing: Professional and Consumer Perspectives
Dick Sobsey, EdD Professor Emeritus, John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre
& Faculty of Education
Monday, 7 March 2011 12:00—12:45pm Room 1J2.47 Walter MacKenzie Health Sciences Centre
University of Alberta
Joanne Faulkner’s recently published book on childhood, The Importance of Being Innocent, was the topic of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation talk show segment today. You can here the interview here; here is the url directly:
A chunk of the book can be read at the Cambridge UP website:
Dr. Faulkner is a member of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada team. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at the University of New South Wales, and formerly held a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta.
Both concerns the Court of Protection which “has the power to make life or death decisions on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in society” under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
1. Court bans man with low IQ from having sex
(The judge uses the “ best interest” justification for the order.)
2. Woman with learning difficulties could be forcibly sterilized
I went to see the film Marwencol last night at the Metro Cinema; if you’re in Edmonton, you can catch it Sunday and Monday nights at either 7 or 9pm. And if you are in St. Elsewhere, check it out when it does the rounds. It is breath-takingly good.
The one sentence reason why? Marwencol avoids freakification, sensationalism, and victimization in telling a powerful story that invites all three.