Disability Rights and Wrongs |
Feb 15, 2006
By Mark Woods
"To a casual thinker, if someone is
blind, or has lost a limb, or has cerebral palsy, it's only humane to want to
fix it, and if it can't be fixed it is a matter for regret.
But according to Gregor Wolbring, a bioethics
professor in Canada who is part of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN)
which met over the weekend before the WCC Assembly - and who can speak from
personal experience - it is not a simple matter of fixing the problem. There
are, he believes, two different issues disabled people are facing.
One relates to how their body functions or their "impairment". Another relates
to the disability that person actually experiences - "the social discrimination
they face due to their impairment," he says.
"Both issues need different solutions. Some disabled people might want their
impairment to be fixed so they can function like everyone else. However, many
others rather want the disablement, the social discrimination to be fixed - some
because they see their functioning as a variation and not as an impairment,
others because the fix of the 'impairment' is economically less feasible than
the elimination of the disablement.
"Often society is simply unwilling to eliminate the social discriminations.
Indeed, society often generates new disabilities, new social discriminations,
based on a person's functioning," he continues. "Even more, we generate more and
more 'impaired' people by giving labels which medicalize more and more
variations of human functioning which don't require that. For instance, someone
is shy, so we say they have an anxiety disorder."
Furthermore we medicalize the very term "health", which he believes is a
fundamentally retrograde step. "Years ago, the World Health Organization talked
about health as consisting of physical, mental and social well-being," he says.
"Although this definition is not perfect and could include other components such
as spiritual wellbeing, today the term health increasingly is used in such a way
that it's only about medical health and does not include social wellbeing any
This reconceptualization of health, he says, leads to the development that under
"health" interventions, we only think about fixing the body of the person - we
don't consider their social wellbeing. More than this, the increasing ability of
new technologies to modify the human body beyond its normal capacities means the
medicalization of the human body leads to the body being seen as just a step in
evolution, and therefore defective."