Health of Children Adopted . . .

Marta Russell ap888 at
Thu Jul 16 01:33:59 PDT 1998

Alec thanks for your clarification. Here are a few comments.

> Let me make clear that I think orphans from Eastern Europe or the Soviet
> Union are as fit for adoption by caring parents as much as any other
> children, of any race, class, gender, and nationality. I was trying to
> indicate their embattled ideological situation-- how these children,
> these bodies, are traversed by various judging authorities, like that of
> the AMA, and how these judgments contruct the orphans, just as race or
> gender or age gets constructed. How these judgements take children no
> more nor less fit for adoption than any other children, and (re)produce
> them as "damaged" orphans. How these judges flatter themselves,
> consciously or not, by presuming to know and be able to qualify the
> fitness of these children for adoption.

This is an important point. Disability is a similar construction to race, gender or age. The AMA has long made use of a medical model of disability which inherently devalues bodies by assigning deviance to those bodies which fall outside its definition of what is "normal".

> Since the study was a study of children up for adoption, what I was
> implying with my impacted rhetoric was that such medical evaluations
> make tacit and hazardous comment on the worth of the child, on the
> "irregular" or "inferior" quality of the yet-to-be adopted child.

Yes Activists with disabilities are keenly aware that the result of such a focus is a limition on the individual who has these "inferior" traits. There is a wide range of variables within any one diagnosis and often a misunderstanding of the disability. Take cerebral palsy for instance. People with this condition are often thought to be incapable just because many of them have difficulties with speech. Yet, as the movie MY LEFT FOOT beautifully illustrated, this is blatantly a social construction. The medical model produces a slant which obscures much.

Activists with disabilities are also painfully aware that disabled children are left unadopted because of the value that is placed on the nondisabled body. This results in terrible social policies like immigration laws that refuse admittance of immigrants with disabilities. In many nations, including the U.S. horrible abuses are perpetrated on disabled children, as Dick Sobsey of Canada has explored.

> In reality perhaps some of these children would require certain routes
> of education and treatment that some parents may not be able to
> accomodate, for whatever reasons. And of course prospective adopters
> should know all information related to children up for adoption.

Yes, they should but sometimes the professionals who are doling out information are prejudiced and uneducated about these matters as well. Disabled people have begun to suggest that the field be opened up to people who have disabilities with the thought that advice coming from the horses mouth might dispell some of the assumptions that get made.

And most importantly, support systems for all children need to be made a part of the public domain - like running water. The task should not be squarley placed on the shoulders of the parents. Universal health care and child care can accommodate all children's needs, including children with disabilities.

> concern is that the tacit ideological operation of the AMA, along with
> countless other dreaded forecasts some parents might have of
> complications of raising certain children in capitalism's rather
> merciless demands for certain body types and productive abilities, will
> contribute to prejudice with some parents. It is of course an
> indictment of capitalism that these prejudices are produced and
> reproduced.

I agree wholeheartedly. I call this market social Darwinism. Hope you don't mind if I quote from my book on that:

"This sea change[industrial capitalism] presented disabled people (unless one was a wealthy capitalist and not a laborer) with less than an equal chance to be a productive member of a community, for industrial capitalism set up production dynamics that further de-valued our bodies. To philosopher Descarte, the body was a machine; to the industrialist striving for more profits, people's bodies were valued for their ability to function like machines. The capitalists used labor to generate larger output to accumulate more wealth. Nondisabled workers had value because management could push them to produce at ever increasing rates of speed which in turn increased profits for the owner class. But as work became more compartmentalized, requiring precise mechanical movements of the body repeated in quicker succession, disabled people were seen as less "fit" to do the tasks then required of the working class.

The emerging market society meant that disabled people who were perceived to be of no use to the competitive profit cycle would be excluded from work. There was no room under market tyranny to accommodate the disability by providing work schedules or adjusting jobs to fit disabled people's needs (a goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act today); rather the disabled person was expected to conform to the needs of the industrialists, an impossible task for many. The social consequence would be that the disabled were perceived as not capable of working at all. The injured workers, the congenitally disabled would be excluded from the workforce, demeaned socially. Out of job and not likely to get another, they were made to feel worthless for not having an arm, using a wheelchair, or crutches. Indeed many were forced to become Dickens street beggars to survive but generally all disabled people came to be viewed as "unfit." In capitalist jargon we became part of that immoral concept, the surplus population, in company with the elderly, the unskilled, those injured on the job, the unemployed who would never get a job (because there were not enough jobs for all).

The phenomenon of "disability" itself came to be defined in relation to a capitalist labor market. For instance, in workers' compensation statutes a laborer's body is rated according to its functioning parts. One is rated a "10" if one has all one's fingers, arms, legs, but ones value is significantly altered to a 7.5 or less if any parts do not "work" by capitalist production standards. In Social Security law, disabled means unable to "engage in substantial work activity," that is, unable to perform work to a standard required to earn a living in a capitalist economy. This is to say that physicalism is perpetuated through social policy built to serve the market economy instead of all members of the society.

While the accumulation of wealth remained of paramount import, the fact that large segments of the population were excluded from benefting from the sole economic order did not rate concern. The expendable were squeezed out while the social Darwinists who were profiting from the status quo justified this state of affairs as the "natural" order of things. (Beyond RAmps, pages 60-61)

What you are doing is important work. I hope you will keep me informed.

In solidarity, Marta Russell

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