Parsing Republican paranoia on the disability treaty

Paranoia strikes deep. That’s the bottom-line explanation for the failure of the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it was more than a generic fear of black helicopters (or black wheelchairs) that impelled 38 Republican senators to disrespect Bob Dole and oppose the treaty, depriving it of the required two-thirds majority.

To hear the opponents, the devil in this demonic instrument of world government was in the details.

Such as the treay’s imaginary attack on home schooling, an obsession for some social conservatives second only to their right to spank their children. Search for the word “school” in the document and you’ll find references to the importance of accessible school buildings and playgrounds, but nothing about requiring disabled kids (or any kids) to attend school.

But that didn’t fool Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Noting that the treaty says that where disabled kids are concerned, “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration,” Lee offered this riff:

“We all want to support the best interest of the child, every child,” Lee said. “But I and many of my constituents, including those who home school their children, or send their children to private or religious schools, have justifiable doubts that a foreign U.N. body operating out of Geneva, Switzerland, should decide what is in the best interest of the child at home with his parents in Utah or in any other state in our great union.”


Then there is the argument that the treaty could lead to the euthanasia of disabled children. Here’s former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum, writing in WorldNet Daily:

“The best interest of the child” standard may sound like it protects children, but what it does is put the government, acting under U.N. authority, in the position to determine for all children with disabilities what is best for them.... In the case of our 4-year-old daughter, Bella, who has Trisomy 18, a condition that the medical literature says is ‘incompatible with life,’ would her ‘best interest’ be that she be allowed to die? Some would undoubtedly say so.”

Finally, there is abortion. In a column in the Hill, Susan Yoshihara, senior vice president for research of the Catholic Family and Human Institute, writes: “On the day it was adopted in the U.N. General Assembly, delegates from 15 nations struck a note of warning that the text could be interpreted as including a right to abortion.”

Maybe they did, but the closest the treaty comes to mentioning abortion rights -- and it’s not close at all -- is a provision that says disabled people should have “the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable healthcare and programs as provided to other persons, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programs.”

Even to analyze these specific objections may give the treaty’s opponents too much credit. If you think the United Nations is a sinister threat to U.S. sovereignty, the details, however devilish, don’t matter much. The opposition to the treaty is probably best interpreted as a primal scream -- but the number of screamers was depressing.


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