Hate Speech: Not Just For Strangers Any More

(Apologies for unsettling anyone’s recent meal.)

My news aggregator came up with this doozy of a quote the other day. It was an editorial reply to an article about Kathleen Seidel, and I’m not going to quote the entire letter. (Follow the link to read it yourself — if you want to reply to the author, do so on that newspaper’s reply page.)

I am one of those parents who has watched my autistic son go from being a vegetable to becoming human, thanks to chelation.

Okay folks, let’s get this straight.

These are vegetables:

These are children:

It is quite insulting at the personal level, and damaging at the social level to describe people with autism or another other condition as being “vegetables”. Doubtless the author believes that their child has improved due to the effects of an unproven “treatment” for an unsubstantiated diagnoses (e.g. autism as mercury poisoning from vaccines). But even if the diagnosis and the treatment actually had any factual basis, that would still not make such comments appropriate.

How would YOU feel if your parents described you as a “vegetable”?

Or as “having rotting brains”?

Or as a “train wreck”?

Or that your condition “relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members”?

Or as “an empty shell”?

Or as “soulless”?

Or that “Autism is worse than cancer in many ways, because the person with autism has a normal lifespan”?

Or as having “mad child disease”

Or that you “would have been better off aborted” because regardless of your aptitudes or potential skills, your existance is automatically assumed to be a “burden on society”.

I’m not making these terms up; you can google them. People with disabilities face enough stereotyping, discrimination, abuse, bullying, and are murdered more often than those without. (I’m not using hyperbole; click here or here.) Describing disabilities in such sensationalistic terms and derogatory ways does nothing to help people become better educated, better integrated into society and employed, or become better accepted in their schools, workplaces, social organisations and families.

More than that, one really has to wonder, What kind of parent describes their child in such insulting ways? And does so to the entire world? Such treatment to children over their lives does not bode well for their psychosocial development, that’s for sure.

When you hear people describing their family members, their students, peers, coworkers, or anyone else they know in such terms, take a moment to ask them,

  • Why they use such descriptions?
  • Do they really believe it, or are they just repeating something they’ve heard?
  • Would they want to be described that way?
  • How else can they describe their frustration or disappointmnet with events in life without insulting people like this?

But most of all, we need to be mindful when we speak up about such hate talk, and not use similarly disparaging terms. We don’t want to become that which we despise.

(A request to people commenting: please use appropriate language — follow the guidelines described in this post.)


  1. qw88nb88 said,

    25 May 2008 at 14:52

    Thank you, Suzanne, powerful words. If you are not a blogger yet, you ought to be!


  2. Suzanne said,

    25 May 2008 at 7:51

    My sister and myself were adopted after our mother died.
    . Her adoptive parents were friends of the family, and brought her up believing that we had ‘bad blood’.
    . My adoptive parents were relatives and brought me up believing that I was ‘the black sheep of the family’ and that I was ‘just like my mother’.

    My sister suicided after many years of mental illness. I tried but (obviously) wasn’t successful. I did end up spending a lot of time in hospitals where the treatment was often based on intimidation.

    These attitudes are not just from the parents. It is not just from ‘the system’. It is not just from television shows that subtly promote a eugenicist message.

    It is not a call for a herbicide for the vegetables amongst us.

    It is about us … each and every one of us, letting such things be presented as being for the ‘good of the group’ … that a group is only as good as its weakest link, or that we can’t ‘win’ if we have to carry others for a while.

    Why do people feel the need to demean others? Why aren’t parents given the suppports that they need to help them to help their children?
    — a society that can’t or won’t bear the social and economic costs of ‘being’ a society will not last as one for long.

    Why do people enter the ‘helping professions’ when they seek to control those they are paid to help? What do such people get out of using abuse and discrimination against people who have to struggle to survive?
    — for our teachers and nurses and health workers to have become so disenfranchised that they abuse those in their care, says much about the sort of society that we are supposed to be working toward. What will matter when we have excluded everyone not like us on the basis of disability, or age, or gender, or size, or age, or religion, or colour, or race?

    Oh wait, we have been there.
    We are there.

    Where do we go from here? Where can we go?
    Is there no forward? Is there no growth? Is there no tolerance? No understanding? No love?

    Is there no hope?

    This is not just about a neurological disorder, or brain damage.
    This is about a life, about living, about our humanity.

    It is about who we are right now, but rather it is about who we want to be and how hard we are willing to work to become that.

  3. Ettina said,

    21 May 2008 at 3:56

    I think the term PVS is inappropriate for the same reason, as well as that by using that term, they pretend to know something they really can’t be sure about.

  4. Patrick said,

    19 May 2008 at 21:05

    Oh my, how people even misuse the medical sense of the term.

    Yes, You people that speak of autistics, CPers, and many other folks with conditions that make life a bit different as if we were garbage PISS ME OFF.

    And beleive me, I would like to use much stronger words to express your level of Bigotry/Facism/Ignorance or whatever causes your continued DISRESPECT.

    (Please note that most of the above are not intended for the majority of folks that read and comment here, just the A$$E$ that talk and advocate that way.)

  5. The Goldfish said,

    19 May 2008 at 20:45

    Here here! I had a half-written post on much the same subject, provoked by a discussion of NHS priorities. My friend spoke of the cost of keeping very small babies alive, when some of those babies would “grow up to be turnips”.

    Not just vegetables, but turnips! Would being a carrot be a preferable prognosis?

    Of course, we do have the medical term of PVS, a Persistent Vegetative State, but that’s really something quite specific, a kind of eyes-open coma. To “vegetate” shares an etymological origin with vegetables but doesn’t mean that a person is a vegetable.

    I actually find the whole thing faintly amusing, until you hear people using these terms in all seriousness, and especially about their own kin…

  6. greg said,

    19 May 2008 at 16:45

    Thanks for posting this!

  7. Barbara said,

    18 May 2008 at 22:36

    I commented on this post with the May 17 post.

  8. Beth Nixon said,

    18 May 2008 at 21:47


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