The Mentally Retarded The Least of our Brethren
Jesus Christ Sets forth the test of our fitness to enter eternal life as follows: "As you have done it to these the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40). The Christian poet John Donne gave us the famous line: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
I submit to you that mentally retarded people qualify among "the least" of Christ's brothers and sisters, and of us. I submit to you that we consider them expendable "useless eaters" in Hitler's words only at our own deadly peril. for what is done to them when they are denied equal human rights may then be done to US.
I shall substantiate this proposition by (1 some evidences from history; (2) by the ambiguous treatment of the mentally retarded in our own country today; and (3) by my own personal experience.
History shows that the treatment of the physically and mentally handicapped has been generally hostile, In pagan societies, including supposedly enlightened ancient Greece and Rome, handicapped infants were killed by exposure. Not until the ascendancy of Christianity were the handicapped considered of absolute, inviolable worth, for only Biblical Christianity and Judaism teach that all human beings are descended from one first. original man and woman created in the image of the Personal God of the Bible, and are hence endowed with God-given absolute right to life and love. This fact is acknowledged in an editorial in California Medicine, Vol. 113. No.3, September 1970. from which I quote:
The traditional Western ethic has always placed great emphasis on the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its stage or condition. This ethic has had the blessing of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
Even under Christian rule the care of the retarded was often reduced to the barest minimum; however, at least the moral obligation to them was acknowledged. But today the Christian consensus is largely destroyed. and therefore the retarded are often again, as under paganism, considered fit only for extermination.
Consider Nazi Germany. 1933 to 1945, where I grew up as a "half-Jew." Germany's mentally retarded were the first deliberately exterminated by the Nazis. Many Germans shared the Nazi position, priding themselves on their high education and intelligence. This is documented in a report by Dr. Leo Alexander, observer at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 231 (19491 pp. 39-47. I briefly quote Dr. Alexander: "By 1936 extermination of the physically or socially unfit was... accepted." Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D.. describes the methods used by the Nazis and their medical henchmen in his devastating documentary report on human violence, A Sign for Cain. published 1966, Chapter 9. The methods were starvation, injections, and experimental gassing. The infamous "Zyklon B" cyanide crystals later employed to murder millions of European Jews were first tested in German asylums for the retarded, such as Hadamar, What was done first to the defenseless retarded would soon include other defenseless people labeled "subhuman" or "useless eaters" in their turn. As Robert H. Jackson, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and U.S. Chief of Counsel for the Nuremberg Trials, wrote in The Hadamar Trial (Hodge & Co., Ltd., 1949), p.ii:
Once any scruples and inhibitions about killing were overcome... there followed naturally an indifference as to what lives were taken.
Only a very few brave Christian leaders protested.
You may think that this Nazi atrocity of the 1 930s is irrelevant to us here in America in the 1980s. You are wrong. Dr. C. Everett Koop, a world-famous children's surgeon and now Surgeon General of the United States, has been campaigning against similar trends in the United States for years. In his book The Right to Live.' The Right to Die, first published in 1976, he tells, among other examples, about the 1975 case of an infant with Downs' Syndrome Ia form of retardation) and an easily correctable intestinal obstruction at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The baby was "treated" for the obstruction by being left to Starve to death, a process taking fifteen days. A film "Who Shall Survive?" was made about this event and widely shown; I have seen it. In this film not one single spokesperson objects absolutely to what was done. Lastly, in April 1982 an infant born with Downs' Syndrome in Bloomington, Indiana was "medically treated" for malfunction of his esophagus not by corrective surgery but by being starved to death; this was the first time in U.S. history that deliberate starvation was imposed with the official approval of a United States District Court (and while several adoptive parents stood by).
Paradoxically, those retarded people who are allowed to live in our country enjoy perhaps the most humane and beneficial treatment ever. An interview with Ms. Melinda Jones, special education teacher at Fabrique Elementary School in Wichita, yielded the following information:
Ms. Jones is the teacher of my daughter, and I have only good things to say about the Wichita special education program. Private efforts have established many fine training facilities to prepare the retarded for employment. The Kennedy Foundation has launched the Special Olympics for the handicapped in memory of President John F. Kennedy's retarded sister Rosemary. There are "halfway houses" for mentally handicapped without families of their own and not in need of special institutionalized care. Today it is recognized that most mentally handicapped people are entirely harmless, and capable of being "mainstreamed" into normal society. Yet the view of the mentally retarded as somehow "subhuman" still prevails among the uninformed, and it is fostered by certain elitist thinkers who would have us believe that the quality of life depends primarily upon a person's 1.0. Thus Dr. Joseph Fletcher, the father of "Situation ethics", would have us terminate the lives of anyone below an 1.0. of 20, with those having an 1.0. of around 40 in the "doubtful" category. I beg to differ with Or. Fletcher, being the mother Of a Downs Syndrome daughter with an 1.0. of around 40. My gentle and cheerful Becky has taught me to discard my own 1.0. prejudices. She has great joy in life and love of beauty, music, singing, dancing and swimming. She contributes to her support and my life by daily eager and useful help in home and garden. Above all she overflows with the intuitive love of other people and affectionate nature for which Downs' Syndrome children are well known. I have learned from experience that a low 1.0. is not a handicap at all in loving interpersonal relations!
I have argued in defense of our mentally handicapped fellow people by showing from the Nazi experience and I was there that what is done to them is a model for what may be done to you or me. I have shown the ambiguous treatment of our retarded brothers and sisters in our own country today, and I have shown from my own experience that a mentally handicapped person, or baby coming into our lives, is not a "useless eater" but a potential blessing of lived-out love, and of warmth and beauty in human relations entirely independent of the elitist fetish of l.Q.s.
I close as I began, with John Donne's words "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," and with the words of my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ: "As you have done it to these the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me.
The above paper was prepared as a "persuasive speech" for a college honors speech course.