Reasonably Confused: Human Rights and Intellectual Disability
University of Denver - GSIS
APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper
In a conversation I recently had with Laura Hershey, friend, disability rights advocate, and participant in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I brought up the problem of rights, personhood, and rationality. I wanted to know why, when the working group, of which she was a member, designed the CRPD, they did not implicitly address the redefinition of the notion of personhood to describe the status of all human beings, without consideration for reasoning ability. She was surprised that I would suggest any implicit exclusion existed or that people without the ability to reason currently hang in limbo within important primary human rights documents. Her understanding was that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, true to its name, was universal in its scope and that the CRPD followed in its sentiment.
Unfortunately, for her view, the UDHR, in Article 1, states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience (italics the author’s) …” Political theory, from Socrates to Rawls, has conflated reason with recognition and inclusion in the political system. The UDHR is irreconciled on the status of people with severe intellectual impairment. Even as Article 1 defines human beings in terms of rationality, the Preamble states, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world…” Similarly, Article 2 states, “Everyone is entitled to all of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…” The unaddressed questions are, “What does the term “human family” mean?” “Does “everyone” really mean everyone?” and “Is there a difference between human being and person?”
This work will address the various historical meanings of personhood, including person as Homo sapiens, rational chooser, or contributor, and investigate what recognition of the eight-hundred pound gorilla might mean. Are the universality of human rights and the primacy of reason incompatible? Can a third position emerge that acknowledges reason as a “light of the world” and a “chief glory of man” while also acknowledging relational abilities, demonstrated by people with severe cognitive impairment as equally essential aspects of what it is to be human? Can we include all of our family members and neighbors without fear of our system imploding?
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13working papers series
Date posted: August 1, 2011 ; Last revised: August 7, 2011
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