Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back Story ...

Been thinking about that last entry since writing it. As in most instances, it tells only a part of the story. What I need to add is this:

That seemingly irrational legislation that made it impossible for the mentally-retarded to undergo tubal ligation procedures had a reasonable and rational beginning. It was originally designed to halt a cruel practice being forced upon poor and mostly black female welfare recipients who were receiving assistance through the ANC (Aid To Needy Children) program in the State of California. When such young women were seen as drains upon the system by having more children than some well-meaning social worker considered practical -- given their inability to support them financially-- they were often sterilized during a delivery -- and at times, with or without their permission. These dependent and often single women were viewed as using multiple pregnancies to garner for themselves incomes they could not otherwise have earned. They were commonly seen as abusing the system and deserving of their fate; a judgment that may or may not have been warranted, and was certainly questionable.

At some point this was challenged, and legislation came into being that would deny any agency the right to sterilize women -- especially those who were often illiterate or under-educated. The legislation was a perfectly rational answer to an irrational and punitive practice. Unfortunately, the mentally-retarded were caught in the glitch. They still are. I don't believe those laws were ever intended to accomplish what they've imposed on the mentally disabled. And most of us have forgotten how those regulations came into being in the first place and what motivated their passage into law.

The law reads (I'm paraphrasing, of course): "A woman cannot undergo sterilization who is incapable of informed consent."

It was for this reason that I took the responsibility to act on my own and disregard a ruling that I was sure was not reasonable and was quite possibly illegal. I was fully prepared to do it as an act of civil disobedience, with the full expectation that -- if challenged -- I would pay the penalty in order to have the issue addressed and the ruling overturned. I had legal counsel in anticipation of some challenge from those concerned. It didn't come to that, fortunately. It's clear that no one really wants to deal with the issue so it continues to victimize the retarded.

An analogous situation might be the curb cuts that were created to make easier the life of the physically-disabled confined to wheelchairs. No one could foresee that this wonderful and enabling adaptation of street corners would place the blind in jeopardy. Those without sight could no longer be certain when they'd come to the end of a block since a white cane may or may not pick up the curb's edge before its owner stumbled into oncoming traffic ... .

At times the law of unintended consequences can have a cruel and unseen edge.

Sometimes you truly need to go it alone ... with eyes wide open and compassion as a guide. Even then there are no guarantees.

Photo: This is a sculpture that Dorian worked on for weeks. Not sure what it represents, lots of small pieces of wood brightly painted and piled high ... she was very excited for that period and spoke about it in different ways at different times. It was eventually disassembled and became parts of other sculptures ... having many lives. Click on this thumbnail to see the detail. It's quite stunning, I think.

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