The politicized body and (in)eligibility for rights

In a recent article in Disability Studies Quarterly ‘The Body and its Able-ness: Articulating In/Eligibility through Rhetorics of Motherhood, Unjust Language, and Questionable Medical Authority’ available online at:

http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/4429/4211

the authors examine the use of language in arguments about disability, and ultimately the worth of people who are disabled. The authors reference Emily Russell’s Reading Embodied Citizenship: Disability, Narrative, and the Body Politic.

“Focusing on the ways in which the public responds to unjust language in regards to a disabled body reveals much about what Russell refers to as the politicized body, or the politic of the social body. Russell argues that the way we talk about the physical body situates a political understanding of the body’s (in)eligibility for certain rights. From this perspective, the public discussion’s insistent focus on the unjust language about Mia’s body implies that how we regard bodies has symbolic implications, meaning the ways in which we talk about a body and its able-ness carries much ideological and material weight. In Mia’s case, these symbolic implications are a way to engage in a counterargument against ineligibility of individuals who are disabled to receive life-saving treatments based on their mental capacity. One such counterargument anchored in Chrissy’s discourse is the accusation that the CHOP physician referred to Mia as “mentally retarded” (Rivera para. 4).”

Ultimately the examination of different public discourses reveal the struggle over who has the authority over defining and describing the quality of life of people who are disabled and who gets to decide the implications of decisions about quality of life. These same struggles are arguably applicable to the right to work and the right to subsistence. Who gets to decide what a person’s quality of life is and whether it will be enhanced by participation in work, paid or otherwise? Behind both medical and economic decisions lurk the questions of resource implications. Would Mia’s doctors have thought twice about the operation if they had a surplus of kidneys, time, equipment and money? Similarly, a worker’s needs for adjustments is balanced against the costs of implementing it. Should these decisions be the private decisions of doctors and employers? Or the courts? Or debated publicly and in more detail? Given the failure of the Equality Act to remove barriers for people who are disabled it is suggested that further public debate is required, which valorises not only work but the people who are disabled themselves.

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Author: Caroline Lambert

I am a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics. My background is in discrimination law. I have a particular interests in disability discrimination and human rights. I fit the Equality Act definition of a disabled person.

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