Epstein Response to Singer

To the Editor:

Peter Singer, a highly controversial ethicist, argues for the “best interest” principle and against the notion that Ashley has dignity.

“Benevolence,” “best intentions” and “for their own good” have often had disastrous consequences for people with disabilities.

For decades, parents, families and disability advocates have been fighting for the principle that personal and physical autonomy of all people with disabilities is sacrosanct and for community-based services for children and adults. Their advocacy led to enactment of laws that establish rights to full personhood for people with disabilities.

Social service and health care systems should be strengthened so that people can receive help at home and appropriate equipment. To the extent that it remains difficult to provide community services for individuals and families, then it is all our duty to change the system so that it works rather than to modify people so that they will more easily “fit” a flawed system.

The United Nations recently adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities. Article 17 reads in part, “Every person with disabilities has a right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.”

Ashley has been denied her basic human rights through draconian interventions to her person.

Julia Epstein
Berkeley, Calif., Jan. 26, 2007

The writer is director of communications, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.