As September 9th, International FASD Awareness day approaches it becomes ever clearer to me how really really over Prevention I am. I know I’ve written about this very recently here but at the risk of being boringly repetitive I just have to talk about it again. I hope you will bear with me. This is important.
The items in my news feed about FASD are slowly becoming more prevalent with the 9th getting nearer. Previously any increase in visibility would thrill me. I am more aware now that over and over the messages are not just overwhelmingly prevention based – they are exclusively prevention based. That exclusivity has got to end. I talked in my previous post about how I think it is ineffective. What I want to talk about here is how damaging and dangerous it is. I’m not saying that trying to keep additional people from suffering from a disability is in and of itself a problem, but when it becomes the sole focus of public discussion of an issue like FASD I believe it starts us on a road to some very unpleasant places.
Prevention only messages devalue the millions of people currently living with FASD. It says they are not worth help and support. They are the throw away mistakes that we will simply prevent in a better future. Don’t agree? Think I am exaggerating? As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How many people are aware of the history of Eugenics in the USA? Do you know that ads deriding the “Feeble Minded” and “Defective” as a burden on our society that should be removed by abortion and forced sterilization were widely supported less than 100 years ago? Even the euthanization of people already born was widely proposed as a public policy!! Laws promoting eugenic policy were passed in 30 of 50 states.
Well that was then correct? It was all far too long ago for us to concern ourselves with now surely? Except it is NOT. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1927 that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit legitimizing eugenics at a national level. Although compulsory sterilization is now widely considered an abuse of human rights, Buck v. Bell was never overturned, and Virginia did not repeal its sterilization law until 1974. Getting quite a bit closer to now, eh? Still not convinced? How about the TIME article that ran in July 2013 reporting 148 sterilizations between 2006 and 2010 in California without the informed consent of the women involved? Close enough for you yet?
It really is only a short and slippery path from devaluing an entire population as mistakes and burdens that should be prevented from existing to the conclusion that they should be eliminated in other ways as well. We like to congratulate ourselves on how progressive we are, how enlightened in our human rights recognition. Our rhetoric and focus around FASD says otherwise. It really does. In fact the forced sterilizations among the Native American populations in the 1970’s were driven in a large part by the high rates of FASD within that population. It would do us good to remember that the horror of the Nazi Holocaust was born out of the American Eugenics movement.
This is why until the dynamic of public conversations around FASD shift to a balance between education on cause and ability to prevent it and how to help and support those already affected, I am done with Prevention. There are enough voices on that topic already.