So Much For Personhood

For a brief but glorious moment this afternoon, I had faith in our democratic process.

I owe Michael Farris for this moment. I owe Michael Farris and the movement he represents lots of things, none of them good, so I’ll take this as my due. And in any case, it came at his expense. Today, Farris appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to explain exactly why they should not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). And in response, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee destroyed him.

Well, most of them.  Leave it to Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) to be Michael Farris’ strongest ally.

Fortunately, most of the members saw through Farris’ fear-mongering. According to Farris (and, on this count, Corker) ratification of the treaty would subject the United States to foreign law, and in a neat trick, would somehow simultaneously expand the powers of the federal government to a dangerous degree. Farris views this as a threat to the rights of homeschooling parents, and via HSLDA he’s assured them that the treaty would deprive them of decision-making rights for their children.

This is not actually true, as Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues pointed out. The UNCRPD is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which as the name suggests is American and it’s been law since 1990. Ratification of the UNCRPD would therefore not impact federal law; it’s a symbolic gesture.  Farris tries to get around that by claiming it would impact state laws, and states’ rights. This is also not true, and I’m unclear why a lawyer would make such an obviously flawed argument.  Again,the UNCRPD is based on the ADA.  It does not alter the ADA. The ADA is federal law and no state is exempt from it.

That sinks the sovereignty argument as well. If ratification of the treaty does not actually mandate a change in US law, Farris can hardly claim that passing it would surrender our sovereignty to our new overlords at the United Nations.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Farris thinks the ADA is overreach, too. But that’s not the argument he made before the Senate today. Let me be very clear: the UNCRPD does not represent a new attack on American liberty. If you object to the content of the treaty, then you object to the ADA, and that’s a different discussion altogether.

It’s also possible that, similarly, he rejects the very concept of the United Nations, and would oppose the passage of any international treaty. Again, he didn’t make those arguments today, and it’s not a view that HSLDA has articulated in its campaign against the UNCRPD. Either this is a smokescreen for an ulterior agenda, or he’s remarkably illogical for someone who’s made a career in law.

And about that law career. Senator Menendez will forever be cherished in my memory for reminding the committee that while Farris’ international law degree–the very degree he claims gives him expert status on this subject–might very well be from the University of London, it’s also from a distance learning course.

(I’d like to take this moment to assure everyone that when I say attended the University of London, I’m referring to physical attendance. I sat my physical rear end in physical chairs and physical lecturers taught me postcolonial theory and global policy.)

But it’s not Farris’ specious arguments that bother me, really. I could even ignore his self-portrayal as an expert in international law, or at least laugh at it a little. Michael Farris’ arguments disgust me because I am a person with a disability.

It’s strange to write that out because I don’t really think of myself this way in my mind. People should identify themselves in whichever way is most helpful to them, and it is typically most helpful to me to focus on everything that is not my illness. But the reality is that I have a spectacularly rare genetic blood disorder. When God knit me together in my mother’s womb, his hands must have been shaking.

When I get sick, sicker than a head cold, things tend to go wrong. This actually happened a month ago. I spent five days in the hospital suffering from acute hemolytic crisis, thanks to an infection my body couldn’t quite subdue. Hemolytic crisis is, for the uninitiated, agonizing. Several of my internal organs were inflamed, so I spent most of my hospital stay in a haze of morphine and oxycodone. I didn’t eat for a week because I couldn’t keep anything down. People in hemolytic crisis have trouble breathing. In fact, they have trouble just sitting up. I’m lucky I avoided a blood transfusion.

Usually, I’m well. No exaggeration. No need to treat me like I’m about to break (seriously, don’t do that, I hate that.). I’ve never needed a transfusion, and I’ve never been quite so seriously ill before, but the possibility is always there and that possibility will never go away. The ADA was designed to protect people like me. The UNCRPD recognizes the need to protect people like me everywhere in the world. So when Michael Farris and his allies in the radical right wing argue against it, I get angry.

Only an able-bodied person could argue against this treaty. Only an able-bodied person would have the audacity to appear before a Senate committee with a disabled person in the room (Representative Tammy ‘Badass’ Duckworth, D-Ill) and whine about homeschooling. It’s absurd. To characterize this as manifestation of skewed priorities would be an incredible understatement. It’s really evidence that Michael Farris, famous too for his “pro-life” posturing, fundamentally misunderstands the concept of personhood.

If you care about personhood, you care about persons with disabilities, too. Don’t you dare demand that women carry disabled fetuses to term if you’re going to get up in front of the Senate and tell our elected officials that the disabled don’t deserve global legal protection.

I am not your political prop. I am not your token. Michael Farris, you don’t speak for me. Your obsession with parental rights has trumped what any reasonable person would acknowledge as an obvious need to protect persons with disabilities. But then again, this is HSLDA. We all know that in Farris’ Bizarro World, parental rights trump children’s rights–even when the children are disabled, and might suffer for it.

So much for personhood.

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7 thoughts on “So Much For Personhood

  1. Yes, so much for personhood. I share your disdain for Farris. We home schooled all six of our children, including a daughter with Down Syndrome. We were HSLDA members for many years but once our theology became liberal we could no longer live with their right wing extremism.

    I have been physically disabled for over a decade. I have been unable to work since 2005. I walk with a cane and sometimes use a wheelchair . It sucks but the disability laws do make life easier for me. Sometimes, being able to park close to the store door makes all the difference. A little thing? To someone healthy it is. To me? It allows me to do what I would not otherwise be able to do.

  2. You know what I wish were regulated? Captions at movie theatres. The only place that offers them really is Regal theatres. They dropped open captioning for a method that more than half the people I have spoken to hate or simply cannot use. They changed because it was cheaper, and it was created by a hearing person. Now, I can’t go to movie theatres anymore. DVDs have no requirement to be captioned either, though thankfully most are. No one seems to care or be outraged, it’s all being pushed through as something that is awesome but it’s not. I wish we could use the method that the UK seems to be going with.

    This is so off topic from what this article is about, but I’d be more than willing to talk about it with someone privately and then see if we could make the problems known more publically. I miss the access I used to have and it sucks to have it be taken away.

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