Dr. Burton Blatt, Syracuse University
March 1984 Speech at Holiday Inn Airport, Pittsburgh, PA
All right, I'll tell you what's in the news. This is not my regular speech, so when you fill out the evaluation, you have to discount this part of it, all right?
In yesterday's Times and our own local paper, there's an article on the fearless New York City School Superintendent Anthony Alvarado. I'm sure even in Pittsburgh you've heard of Anthony Alvarado. You haven't? Anthony Alvarado is Superintendent of Schools in New York City, thank you very much, New York City, the largest school system in America. He makes about $95,000 a year, that's his salary, and he borrows about $95,000 a year from some of his employees.
(Noise from next door.)
I'm going to have some time today. With my ear and this guy next door, it's going… Well, anyway, this guy borrowed a great deal of money from employees and owed, oh, I don't know, $20,000-25,000 in parking fines. He was a scofflaw. And there was an accusation that there was an unfiled income tax he should have filed of a hundred some odd thousand dollars. Well, anyway… I mean this is the superintendent of schools in the City of New York. And you know what his comment was to all of that? "Nobody's perfect."
There's a point I'm going to make here. In the same paper a couple of days ago, the other fearless leader, the Governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, says, as you all had to read. If you haven't read about this, you better see my doctor because you need not only your ears checked but your brain. You had to hear about this one. "Elderly people who are terminally ill have a duty to die and get out of the way instead of trying to prolong their lives by artificial means," says Governor Richard Lamm.
Now there's a connection between the both of these, uh, events. A superintendent of schools, a man who is earning more money than most Americans. AJ, I'd put in a complaint to this hotel, I mean when it's, what?
Yeah, this is nuts. I'm really apologizing, but you don't know how disconcerting this is, especially for someone who, you know is what they call minimally brain damaged. I can't… I can't separate the figure from the ground. I'm unable to keep out all of these external intrusions. It's very, very hard, especially for someone like me, to concentrate on you while I got somebody behind me trying to give me a speech and telling me that the coffee is ready.
Well, the connection… the connection is that anybody who's making almost a $100,000 and has to borrow the way he does from people who work for him and cheat on his income tax and not pay his parking fines, that person has forgotten something, the same thing the Governor of Colorado has forgotten, and that is each of them has forgotten his mortality.
Each of them has forgotten that we all go, you're not going to take it with you, and there's no… no reason, there's no point to accumulate things that you're not entitled to and you'd better be pretty careful about who you say has a responsibility to knock himself off, because some day you're going to be in that category.
But you see, the Governor of Colorado doesn't think he's ever going to die, he's ever going to get old. He's not going to get old and he's not going to die. He's always going to be young and beautiful and on the cover of People magazine. He's going to be wealthy and powerful, otherwise he wouldn't say that.
And Mr. Alvarado, he's got to accumulate it. And that's the whole point, the point of Baby Doe, the point of institutionalization, the point of telling old people there's a time where you, you gotta get out of here, we're going to knock you off, because you're not carrying your weight anymore. A society that does that, that's not only a mean and nasty society, that's a society led by people who themselves have forgotten their own mortality.
All right. Now, here comes my talk. I'm here to announce my… today, to you people, for the first time anywhere, my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.
All right. Why did I get laughter when I said that? I'm very serious about this, I'm announcing my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.
I decided to announce it in Pittsburgh. I thought that would be an appropriate place to launch my candidacy. Well, listen, when you think about the alternatives, really. And besides, it seems that I'm well known to all those big shots. Now look, in yesterday's… the day before yesterday's mail, no joke, day before yesterday, I got a letter from the President of the United States. I'm not kidding you.
"Dear Mr. Blatt," not Burt, but… it's signed by Ronald Reagan, it's true. "I'm very grateful for all you have done to support me over the past three years as I've worked to rebuild our economy and our defenses. Together, you and I have brought our nation away from the brink of economic disaster facing us when I took office in 1981." And he goes on to tell me all the things he has done and to thank me for all the support I've given him. He's also told me that "together we must refute the Democrats' charges point by point and expose their statements for what they are, a blatant attempt to win back the reins of political power," and, of course, he's asked for a few bucks.
Now I didn't even know the president knew me and knew all the support I gave him. As a matter of fact, I'm going to tell you a little secret, I didn't know all the support I gave him until he just told me about it.
And not only did I get a letter from the President of the United States, in the last month I got one from Mr. Mondale, and I got one from Mr. Hart, and I am certain I'm going to get one from Mr. Jackson. I didn't get one from Mr. McGovern. I didn't think he had enough money for the stamps, but had he had enough money for the stamps, he would have sent me one to all of my good friends.
And I figure if all of those people know me well enough to send me a letter like this thanking me for my support and my encouragement knowing so much about me, the least I could do is join their club and run for President myself.
And I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it. So that's why I'm here today to announce my candidacy, and if I bring this up during the day, I don't want anybody to laugh. I need all the encouragement I can get. And when I hear laughs, which sound a little bit like snickers, I get the feeling that you're not taking this announcement seriously enough. And that's going to shake my confidence.
Now, why do I think, I, I have a chance, especially today. Well… I've always been anti-government. I'm not… I'm a patriotic person, I don't want anybody to misunderstand. I don't want you to call the FBI or anything about me. I'm not one of these shady characters, but I have been critical of the government.
And it didn't matter, doesn't matter whether it be the Democrats or the Republicans. They're all stinkers, I've come to conclude. Now the former government, they didn't know anything about the poor and about the handicapped, about the disenfranchised, and that used to trouble me for a long time. That used to trouble me.
The current government is different. They don't want to know. It's worse today, it's worse today. I did a little survey the last two or three weeks in preparation for this thing.
Hey, you really scared them, AJ. Look at that. See that? Not a… What? Betsy. Where is Betsy? You really did a hell of a job, Bets, you scared them. Look at that. They don't push us around. I mean, what the hell. If Jesse Jackson was in here and somebody was making noise next door, they'd stop, right? It's the same thing. Right? You better believe it.
Okay… it's the… it's a government that doesn't want to know. I did a survey with some of my friends the last two or three weeks. This is true. I only tell the truth. It sometimes is distorted, but I only tell the truth. I did a survey with some of my friends the last couple of weeks. I asked them about their income tax. (We gotta scare 'em again.)
I asked them about their income taxes and whether they're paying or getting back. I haven't met a friend who isn't getting something back, and these are all essentially upper middle class people, wealthy people, doctors, professors, lawyers. Every one of them are getting returns, every single one of them.
You ask the poor people whether they're getting money back. Now, it's nice for us, it's nice for us, it really is. The rich are gonna get richer and the poor are gonna get poorer. If that's what you want, you got it. Keep… keep at it. Vote them all in.
But that's what the government is doing. That's what the country is becoming. The wealthy are getting wealthier and the poor and the have-nots and the disabled and the disenfranchised are getting weaker and poorer.
The meanness isn't only in the government. I see it everywhere.
I chair a committee at our university on the Honorary Degrees Committee, we give honorary degrees. I want to tell you an incident about a year ago.
The Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa was proposed for an honorary degree by a professor. And the proposal came to the committee and discussion ensued. And one professor, a very distinguished professor, so he is wont to tell anyone who would listen, objected vehemently to Mother Teresa receiving an honorary degree from Syracuse University.
So I, being a curious sort, wanted him to explain what his objection was. And in my preparation for his answer I thought, well, it might be that he didn't like the way she went into Lebanon a year or so ago and was critical of certain groups. But that wasn't the objection. I don't think there would anybody in this room who could figure out why this fellow objected to Mother Teresa receiving an honorary degree. It wasn't because he's anti-Catholic or anti-nun, or anti-feminist. No, Mother Teresa doesn't publish.
So you see, there's… there's lunacy everywhere. Even in our field, even in the field of developmental disabilities. But as my old economics teacher Mr. O'Toole used to say, "Too bad about prohibition, but it's better than no drinking at all." And I say, too bad about the way our field is, but I guess it's better than not having any field at all. Used to be called mental retardation, now they say developmental disabilities, for whatever reason.
By the way, if at the end of my harangue with you now and later, if there's anyone in this room I haven't insulted, I apologize, and if you see me after the talk, I'll be glad to try to make amends.
I read a few days ago in the Times, the New York Times, there was a… one of these retrospective articles on this Kitty Genovese. Do you remember that case in New York? A woman 20 years ago, just 20 years ago, was coming home from work in a well-traveled part of Long Island. She was attacked and repeatedly knifed and she screamed out for help and windows opened and closed and lights opened and closed and nobody came to help her. Do you remember that?
And the article was an analysis of the society then and the society today, would we today close the light, pull the shade if we heard people in need, if we heard a voice scream out for help, and the jury's out. What do you think? I don't know. I don't know if we're any more sensitive to other people and their needs today than 20 years ago or 50 years ago or 500 years ago. I ask you why.
Well, as I went into Hancock Field this morning, that's our airport in Syracuse, I saw a great big sign. I've seen that sign for I don't know how many weeks, and you've seen this sign too. You've either seen it in the airport or you've seen an advertisement in the newspaper. But this morning, that sign hit me.
And I was trying to think about something other than my ear, so my mind was trying very hard to work this morning. Sometimes it does it, and sometimes I just sort let the mind alone, relax, when my ear doesn't hurt. When your ear hurts, you try to do other things so your ear doesn't hurt, and so I had to think, which is almost as painful as an ear.
What was the sign? It was an advertisement by the United Negro College Fund and it said something like… I scribbled it down. "A mind not used is a terrible waste." You ever see that sign? "A mind not used is a terrible waste." Well, there's something very ennobling about that statement and it's supposed to engender dollars, checks, contribution to the United Negro College Fund.
But there's another side to that. And the other side to that is also why we're killing Baby Doe. Listen to what it says, "A mind not used is a terrible waste." What about somebody who doesn't have much of a mind? I mean, you know, there's some of those Baby Does who the long and the short of it is they don't have much of a mind and they're not as smart as you are, right? I mean isn't that the long and the short of it?
We see those signs everywhere we go. Not just the United Negro College Fund, but everywhere we go, everything we do, we're told, "A mind not used is a terrible waste." A weak mind, you deserve to die, your life could be snuffed out. A damaged mind, we could put you in the institution.
But you have a strong mind, you go to a university. You're gonna serve society, you're gonna make your momma and your daddy proud of you. You're gonna make America proud of you. We're gonna finally beat the Japanese and have a better automobile.
What are we saying? Why are Americans buying Japanese cars? Read the papers. Because American children in the third grade are reading second grade work. That's why Americans are buying Japanese cars.
Now you gotta figure that out. It isn't because Japanese make a better car, that's not the reason. It's because kids don't read well in the elementary school. And you read, you read those reports, the crisis in American education. The nation at risk. Read the reasons why America isn't competing in the common market with Japanese industry. Because our kids can't read.
Read why young people aren't working, why there are hundreds of thousands of young people out of work in America today. It isn't because the steel mills are closed in Pittsburgh. Has nothing to do with it. It's 'cause they didn't learn to read and write in the schools. That's why, that's why they're not working. If American children knew how to read and write, they'd be working.
And we'd make better cars. The reason the Japanese make better cars is 'cause their children know how to read and write more than the American children know how to read and write. That's what they're saying.
So what's the analysis? You don't read and write, you're a lousy kid and you're unpatriotic and your mother and father stink too. It's a terrible waste. It's a terrible waste.
Everywhere you go. Everywhere you go, you hear the same story. Gotta be smart, gotta get ahead, you gotta be better, gotta be rich. You gotta accumulate, and if you're weak, you're no good. And you have a patriotic duty to go against the wall so we can shoot you.
The Governor of Colorado said. The Governor of Colorado said. And I'm asking you, is this what you want? Is this what you want America to be? Because this is what's you're getting.
Well, I'm gonna look at the news a little bit, and then I'm going to give you the formal part of my talk for the morning.
This is a letter that the bus company sent to the superintendent of our local schools a few weeks ago. "On October 14th and October 17th, our Rome deaf school bus, that's Rome, New York, had severe discipline problems with Michael Daily and Alisa Schaefer, both of Syracuse. Neither would listen to the driver or aide to stop tormenting other children." Well, deaf children don't listen.
Last week's New York Review of Books lead article, lead article Reagan and Baby Doe. It's a review of a book written by a couple, a review of a book written by a couple who made the decision that the Indiana parents made to terminate the life of their newborn.
And the reviewers agreed with the couple who wrote the book. They said the parents have this right. It's the parents who should determine whether the newborn with an anomaly should live or die. I'm gonna get to the details of these types of cases in a little while.
March 13th, a couple weeks ago, the New York Times the editorial on the new Catholic Bishop in New York, "Bishop John O'Connor, the next leader of New York's Catholic Church, Bishop John J. O'Connor has telegraphed ahead some theological and political views with highly offensive implications."
Now, look, the New York Times is the paper of record, and I read it every day, not only because it's the paper of record and it's a pretty swanky thing to do, but as a matter of fact, it happens to be the best paper in the world, I think, and I think if you want to learn something about mental retardation, you learn more about mental retardation in the New York Times than in the American Journal on Mental Deficiency, day in, day out. It's a good newspaper.
And I have a new bishop in New York and the opening salvo of the New York Times is "Bishop, welcome to New York, you've said some offensive and disgusting things." Now the Times usually doesn't do that, at least not until the person has been in the city for at least a week or two.
Now, what were they so offended by? And what I'm about to say may even offend some of you. But I'm gonna take that chance because there's a point, an important point that has to be made that the Times missed and if some of you miss it, so be it.
Here's what they didn't like about what the Bishop said, quote "I always compare the killing of 4,000 babies a day in the United States, unborn babies, with the Holocaust. Now Hitler tried to solve a problem, the Jewish question, so kill them, shove them into ovens, burn them. Well, we claim that unborn babies are a problem, so kill them. To me, it's really precisely the same."
Now, I don't want to debate with you the question of abortion. I really don't. And as I was saying to my friends who picked me up at the airport, I've learned that that's a question where on issues where… where we could be friends and work together, we become enemies because of the abortion issue.
You don't know what I think about it, I don't know what you think about it, and I'd just as soon leave it that way. It happens to be an issue that's mixed in with religious questions and other kinds of questions, and I know people who are against Baby Doe are for or against abortion, are for Baby Doe, for or against abortion, and the whole thing gets all mixed up.
That's not the point I'm getting at. What this Bishop was saying is that in principle, in principle abortion when it's decided, it's decided the same way that Hitler decided to kill the Jews and the Poles and the Gypsies and the homosexuals.
And the parent of Baby Jane decided that their child should live. I'm quoting the parent of Baby Jane Doe from Time magazine of a few weeks ago. "Baby Jane's parents decided that hers would not be a life worth living." Hitler decided in his own words, this is what he said, "A life devoid of value is not worth living."
That was the rationale for killing the Jews, the 300,000 mentally retarded people he killed, the homosexuals, the Gypsies, the Poles, the Slavs, the thirteen million people he killed were killed on the rationale that a life devoid of value is not worth continuing and we have decided that those lives are devoid of value.
In principle when a life is taken by a society legally, legally… it's taken for the very same reasons that Hitler took those thirteen million lives. And the only way a society can guarantee that no lives will be taken is to articulate another principle. That no life is devoid of value, no life, and no society and no human being has the right to determine the value of another human being. That's the only way you'll guarantee the lives of the Baby Does of the world and the Baby Janes and those old people. That's the only way.
But when the society, when the culture, when the Governor of Colorado, when the courts, when parents are given the right to determine what life has value and what life doesn't have value, nobody is safe.
The question is, does a parent own their children? Does a parent have the right to decide whether a newborn should live or die? I've been thinking about that one. Even if parents were by law owners of children, they might not even then have the right to determine whether the child lives or dies.
Now, for example, parents or individuals own homes. How many of you own a home, your own home? Raise your hand. You own your own house, all right. You don't have the right to burn your house down. I mean, you own it, lock, stock, and barrel, the bank doesn't own a nickel of your house. You try to burn your house down, you go to jail. Why? You threaten the safety of the community. You threaten the community.
So because you have property does not mean you can destroy it. You own a dog, you're not allowed to kill your dog. Did you know you're not allowed to kill your dog? You try to kill your dog and the authorities catch you, they're going to be very, very angry with you. They might even put you in jail for a few hours. How come you can knock off your own kid then? Lot of people think you can, believe it or not.
Now Gallup does this poll every few weeks on important issues of the day. A few weeks ago he did a poll on the Baby Doe question. That's a question that's really sweeping America. And so here's what he asked the people. "When a badly deformed baby who could live only a few years was born in a Midwest city, the parents asked the doctor not to keep the baby alive. Would you take the same position as the parents did or not?"
Well, on the national survey that Gallup did a few weeks ago on that question, 43% of the people said, yes they would. They'd go right along with Mr. and Mrs. Baby Doe, 40% said no, they wouldn't, and 17% had no opinion. No matter what the question is, 17% don't have an opinion. "What's your name?" "I don't have an opinion on that."
There weren't big differences between men and women on this question. The biggest differences were between those who were educated and those who weren't educated. And guess what? The educated ones, like with college degrees, 54% said, yeah they'd go along with Mr. and Mrs. Baby Doe, and 33% said no they wouldn't. But the high school graduates, 38% would go along with Mr. and Mrs. Baby Doe and 43% said no, they wouldn't.
So, how do you create a nation that's more generous, that's more caring, that truly, not only believes but lives by the idea that we are our brothers' keepers? Do we educate them? Hmm.
Mr. Gallup said by implication, maybe not. And if you look at German history of the 20th century, you'd say maybe not too. That German culture during the 1930s was about as well educated as any in the world, had as many poets and philosophers, theologians as any culture. That didn't stop them. That didn't stop them.
In a recent issue of Pediatrics magazine, "Early Management and Decision Making for the Treatment of Spina Bifida," there is a formula presented developed by a scholar name of Shaw on the quality of life: QL = NE x (H + S). And what you do is plug in this formula. QL is the quality of life, NE represents the patient's natural endowment both physical and intellectual, H is the contribution from home and family, S is the contribution to society.
You plug in all of these numbers on the formula, and you determine whether the baby lives or dies. That's right, plug in a formula. And that's where you get the quality of life, so you know whether the baby should live or die.
So, you ask, what are we doing? What have we become? It doesn't stop. What are the arguments for denying life supports for severely mentally retarded people? That there are infants so mentally retarded that they can't benefit from any sort of educational programming. They are custodial vegetables.
This was the argument that was advanced by a group of distinguished child developmentalists to Judge Johnson in the Pablo case several years ago. These people, all experts in child development and mental retardation, said to this federal judge, who was seeking to reform a state institution for the mentally retarded or close it down.
These experts said to him, "Parents of severely retarded children and by implication you too, Judge Johnson, are being sold a cruel, cruel hoax. You're being told that severely retarded people can live in the community, in the… these group homes," the kinds that some of you manage, "that severely retarded people can live in a noncustodial environment, and that's simply not the case. What most severely retarded people need are clean living environments, decent, kindly custodial care. These individuals will never learn anything. And to be promised that even the possibility that there was some sort of training program from Marc Gold or Happ or you name it that could help such a person live in a manner which even resembles ordinary life is just the cruelest sort of hoax."
Let's look at that argument. What surprised me most about that proposition is that these otherwise very bright psychologists, and they are, either never knew or had completely forgotten the history of mental institutionalization. Anyone who knows anything about the history of mental institutionalization knows, knows as sure as you're sitting and breathing there, that it has been since the beginning of mental institutionalization to this day impossible to run for other than the briefest period of time decent, clean, humane, even custodial institutions. They're impossible to run. I mean even if you wanted to do it, you can't.
How come? How come? I mean your parents ran decent, clean, humane homes. I assume at least most of your parents did; you look like a fairly normal lot. How come you can't run humane, decent custodial institutions? Who's going to work there? People who work in institutions usually don't stay very long, and those who stay a long time usually get very depressed. The salaries are low. The perks aren't. The prestige isn't.
You don't stay. You stay for one of two reasons. Either you're a saint or there's something the matter with you. So you have a few saints there and you have a few people where there's something the matter with them, and you have a lot of other people who come and go.
There's a tremendous turnover—you know that. I'm not telling you anything you don't know. I mean, who do you have working in an institution? You have a few saints, people much better than us—much better than me, I don't want to talk about you—a few saints.
You have a few deviant people, vicious, deviant, sadistic, I mean, you know, whatever, there's something the matter with them, and you have a lot of people coming and going, leaving. Some alcoholics, some drug addicts, and some saints.
Why would anybody want to work there? I'm not talking big jobs, I'm not talking superintendents' jobs and principals and directors, you know, the coordinators. I'm talking about people who actually have to work, change the diapers, you know, go into the day rooms.
Oh, sure, the big shots, they've got good jobs. They're there a long time, they have very good jobs. I mean, their jobs are almost as good as professors. They've got good jobs.
Also, those places are closed places. You can't get in easily. You can't get out easily. You can't look around from the outside easily.
I mean you go to one of your good old everyday institutions in Pennsylvania. I don't know them as well as I used to, I mean, I don't even know whether they're the same names, but you know around here you've got Polk State School, and I used to go to Selinsgrove now and then. I mean, White Haven, I used to go around to these places. Laurelton.
There used to be a school for defective delinquents, women of childbearing age. That was who it was for; defective delinquents of childbearing age. That was the classic client they took.
I'm sure some it is changed, a lot of it. But you go to your good old every day institution in Pennsylvania, you get out a camera, you want to take some pictures. You go to the superintendent's and say, "I'd like to go into your dormitories, into your… I'd like to go where the severely retarded live and take some pictures." Chances are you're not going to get very far.
How come? I mean, really, how come? Anybody bring a camera today? Anybody? Nobody wanted to take my picture. Oh, he's got a TV. He's taking my picture. Every minute of it, even with my silly stories.
But if somebody brought a camera and they want to take a picture or go out in the lobby to take it, nobody's going to stop them, right? You can go all over this motel. I mean you can't go to somebody's private room, but you can go all over the motel, in here, you want to take pictures, take pictures, come on my campus, take pictures. Walk along the street, walk on the street you start taking somebody's picture, usually they stop and smile, don't they? They wave, huh?
You can stop somebody and say, "You mind if I take it?" "No not at all." You get a little crowd together, you take their picture, they all smile. How come you can do that anywhere but in an institution for the retarded? Can't do it in an institution for the retarded. They're closed. And anything that's closed is going to get dirty, there's going to be scandal. It's gotta happen.
Where are there always scandals? Prisons, army camps, institutions, that's where the scandals are. You can't have a scandal on the university campus. Not a real one. I mean, not one that people really would be horrified to hear about. You have a few things that make people chuckle, but not things that would horrify people.
What is that professors are more moral than institutional workers? Anybody that's been to university knows, you know different. You know that's not true. Professors and students, they have higher morals than people who work in institutions or institutionalized retarded people? Not at all. I mean, we've been to university, you've been to college, you know that. That's not true.
How come there are no great scandals in the university? Why don't you read that university professors are beating students and locking 'em up? Huh? Drugging them. Why, why not? Because the places are open.
I mean, if you have a lunatic in the university doing terrible things, everybody's going to know it right away and they're going to root that person out and do something with him or her. In an institution, things could go on for year after year after year, and nobody will know it. They're closed, and that's where things do go on in closed places.
We've never had a period in American history where institutions for the retarded or the mentally ill were immune from scandal. They've always been rift with corruption with dirt, filth and abuse. They're a little cleaner now, we've had reforms of 20 and 25 years and new laws and advocacy councils and oversight committees. I mean everything under the sun, and I could take you to places in the United States today, right out of Christmas in Purgatory, right today, and you know it. You know it.
And all you gotta do is let your guard down for a few weeks. It's just like when you get you get that lawn going beautiful, you know, it just looks gorgeous, but you, the family goes away for vacation for two or three week and the neighbor forgot to water the lawn or fertilize it or whatever. You come back, it's all weedy again. You don't take care of your lawn, all the weeds come.
That's the way institutions are. They are not naturally healthy. Yeah, you can keep them looking okay for a little while, but they're no damn good. Anything segregated is bad. And it's hard to have something horrible or terrible if it's integrated. It's hard.
It's the magic of normalization, that's the magic of integration. What, is it that you people are so much smarter than those who run the institutions and work in them, or so much nicer or better? Well, you probably are, but we have a very classy crowd here today. But people who work in group homes; they're not any different than those who work in the institution as people.
People are people. People are people. The difference is that where you work, you work in an ordinary neighborhood. And if you're up to mischief in your group home, if the postman doesn't see it, or the guy who delivers milk or the next door neighbor, somebody's going to find out about it, and they're going to put a stop to it.
This idea that mentally retarded people are so retarded that they can't benefit from educational programming… they're so retarded they can't benefit.
Well, I know I brought this up last year. I keep bringing it up in my own mind time and time again—then we've forgotten the lesson or never learned the lesson that Itard tried to teach us in that book the Wild Boy of Aveyron, and the lesson that Helen Keller tried to teach us in her autobiography.
Because that's what they were saying to us, not that a deaf-blind person can learn to communicate, or not that a wild boy can learn a few words or learn to put his clothes on. It's that anybody, everybody can learn. That fundamental to being a human being is the capability of learning something.
I know a little later you're going to hear from Mr. Callahan, maybe some of his associates, who have one very profound lesson to teach, and the thing, Try Another Way, I mean, that's interesting. If we can't do it this way, we try another way.
I know there's a lot more to it than that. But there's something even more fundamental than that, that Marc and that whole crowd of such creative and interesting people try to teach us a number of years ago, and that's the lesson, everybody can learn something. That a severely retarded person can learn to put the parts of bicycle together, could learn to do something useful.
A few years ago, I went back to look at those same institutions I had seen 15 years before, which led to that Christmas in Purgatory book. And I wrote another book with a couple of colleagues that was called The Family Papers, and in that book of a few years ago, we discussed this small community called Camphill Village. Camphill is one of a few environments created by a group, another movement, anthropacifists.
It's a religious movement started by a theologian a philosopher by the name of Rudolf Steiner maybe 75 years ago in Europe. And they create these communities; some people say they're quasi institutions. I don't look at those places that way.
There are a number of houses. In those houses live some families with ordinary children and some retarded people live there too. Adults, ordinary, sometimes retarded. And they have a farm, bakery, and shops, other places where they make things and sell things.
Well I go down to the farm one morning. I'm visiting this place, Camphill Village in Copake, New York, and there's a fellow, lots of 'em, and women milking cows by hand, right? One's milking the cow, another one is holding the tail of the cow.
So not only am I inquisitive but about some things, I'm not too smart, and I asked one of the farmers, I said, "Why are you holding the tail?"
I was born in Brooklyn. I didn't know that if somebody doesn't hold the tail, that tail keeps swinging back and hits the milker in the head. He says, "I'm holding the tail so… He explains it to me like I'm a little bit muddled.
I thought about that. I knew that Camphill could afford automatic milkers. They have the most modern sterilization machine you could buy, as modern as any high-class dairy. They could afford automatic milkers. They didn't need anybody to hold the tail. How come they have somebody milking the cow by hand and somebody holding the tail?
They figured out first how to make sure everybody's doing something useful, everybody's working. Everybody is doing something useful. Real work, not make-believe work, not play work, not the work you see in the institution, where when you go into their sheltered workshop.
There's one I was in not too long ago. There you see somebody sitting there putting this over here and then somebody sitting over here takes this and puts this over here. And somebody sitting over here and takes this and puts this over here. And then somebody at the end of the line picks all of those up and brings them over here. And then somebody sits and moves it down the line again.
It's like mannequins in a store window all dressed up looking like real people, looking like they have something to do or somewhere to go, but it's all a façade.
At Camphill, there's real work. There's milking a cow, and holding the tail is very useful when somebody's milking a cow. How much real work do we give people? And how many times in the institution and even in our community training centers have we replaced the individual with a machine while the individual is sitting around with nothing to do?
This is not just a problem in the field of mental retardation. This is a problem for the general society to cope with. America is hell bent on building robots. The Japanese are building robots, you know, for their factories. We're hell bent on building robots and yet we've got millions and millions of people out of work.
It's like the automatic can opener. The automatic can opener makes you useless. There may be a few people in the country who need it, cerebral palsied people, people who don't have any hands, people who are too weak to move the can opener, the 25 cent variety.
But for most of us, the automatic can opener makes us useless. You put the can in, it spins the can around. You don't even have time to run to the john while that can is spinning, otherwise the can will plop and scatter all the contents. And while that can is turning, you are useless.
Well, the institution is a place to make us useless. Its shops usually have work that's make-work, useless work. But the institutional farm, which could have people doing useful work, have been closed because the advocates in the community have sued the state because people were working in the institutional farm and not getting paid for their work, so there was a peonage suit and the advocates won.
So rather than the state now deciding to pay the institutional inmates for the work they're doing, they closed the farm and they brought the farmers back to the institutional cottages where they're sitting in the dayroom with nothing to do.
That what's been happening. And people could do things, people could learn. That was the lesson from The Wild Boy of Aveyron, from the life of Helen Keller, from all these stories that you could tell about the people you work with.
There's the argument that the community isn't prepared to integrate the profoundly retarded. You hear that all the time when you want to start a group home, "Well we're not ready for it, we're not prepared."
That was the same argument that… that was and is used when neighborhoods are integrated along racial lines. "We're not prepared to integrate." Well, if we have to wait for the community to be prepared to integrate, that is, if the will of the majority will rule on questions like this…
What I'm trying to say is if the American people don't want the retarded living in the community and don't want the very old living in the community, and I suspect that's what's going on, that the public does not want the severely retarded, the very old, the sick to live in the community, that the majority of the public does not want that.
If we then say because the majority don't want it, then it's right not to integrate those people, then Hitler was right. Then Hitler was right because he did what the majority wanted.
He had the will of the people. He had the laws behind him. He didn't break any laws. He didn't have any opposition to what he was doing. There weren't any strikes against Adolf Hitler for Dachau and Buchenwald and Treblinka. There was no outcry from the citizens. There was no marches in Berlin against the government. They were with him.
So if the argument is that we cannot deinstitutionalize the retarded and place them in ordinary homes in the community because the citizens don't want it, I say what's our complaint against Adolf Hitler? Now what's the big complaint against Adolf Hitler?
The majority doesn't have to be right. If the majority decides on an immoral conclusion, that even if there's only person left to cry out against that conclusion, that person must cry out against it.
I'm not persuaded when the local community says, "We're not ready to have the mentally retarded here." Of course, I'm not persuaded that the State Department of Mental Health always does things so as to educate the local community in the best possible way.
The case that keeps coming back to my mind time and again is what happened downstate in New York a few years ago. The Department of Mental Health decided it was going to deinstitutionalize its mental patients. And so it placed a few mental patients in a couple of little homes it bought in Long Beach, a pretty swanky community in Long Island right on the Atlantic Ocean.
And that seemed to work, so they placed a few more, a few more, and they bought up some motels there and hotels and apartment houses. And before you knew it, the people from Long Beach woke up one day and looked around and they said, "Hey, you know, the neighborhood's changed. And all these people walking the streets here with their flies open and their pants hanging down, and ripped clothes, and… what the hell's going on here?"
Well, the state had dumped hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of ex-mental patients in one little neighborhood. And they turned what once was a normal neighborhood into a very large institution called Long Beach.
That's not the way to do it. You gotta be intelligent about this. You want to normalize, you gotta keep the community looking like a community. And if you're going to buy a home for a group home and you want to go into a very nice neighborhood, you don't have a great big yellow bus assigned to the group home "State Department of Mental Health" in the parking lot all the time. And you don't have hordes of people in and out every day, every eight hours, the workers changing their shift.
I mean, if you're going to go into a neighborhood that's a pretty high-tone neighborhood, I mean, you gotta, you gotta make your people and your home fit into that neighborhood. You can't plop in a little institution in a neighborhood. You know, people have to respect the fact that those contiguous neighbors, I mean you do have investments and you do have rights.
I was on a panel a while ago, and the one who made the most sense had the completely the opposite position I did. There was some guy on the panel who was reading a sermon to the people about, uh, "Oh, you got to let us start our group homes in your neighborhood, or you're a bunch of vile bastards," you see, I mean that was his tone.
He represented the state. And then there was this postman. He said, "I saved my nickels and dimes. And my wife was a school teacher, and she used to work Christmastime in a department store to make some extra bucks so we could save up a little money and buy a house out in the country here, out in the suburbs. And we finally bought this little house, we sunk every nickel we could into it so my kids could grow up in a nice neighborhood in the suburbs, you know. I'm a little guy, I'm a postman, and I finally achieved what I wanted, a nice house. I even built a swimming pool in the backyard. And I loved it. And the state bought the house next door. They got a great big yellow bus there in the driveway saying 'So and So Mental Institution' on it, and they stuffed in 14 adults living in that house, and they're all over the place."
He says. "What do you want me to think? And nobody asked me, nobody told me anything, nobody said anything to me about any of this."
He says, "Why shouldn't I be hostile?" I think he's got a right to be a little irked. I think he does.
You want to go in there and start something normalizing for your clients? Keep it normal. One of the… one of the first rules, maybe rule one, of living in a normal neighborhood is you gotta respect your neighbors. You really gotta respect your neighbors, I mean, whether you're running a group home or you're just living there with your own family.
You don't… you don't put your old broken down refrigerators on your front lawn. Or your broken down cars, you don't pile them up in… in your driveway and let them rot there. You know, your neighbor would be upset with that.
We're the same way, you're gonna have a group home in a normal neighborhood; you gotta try to be a good neighbor. Because you're working with the retarded, you know, that doesn't give you any special privilege, you know, to step on other people, to talk down to them.
Well, there is this question: There are lives devoid of all value, they have no value to themselves, to society, and those are the people we're talking about either to extinguish at birth, Baby Jane, Baby Jane Doe, or to put in institutions for life.
That's the big one today. That's the one that is going to take a lot of your thinking. That's the one that you were to have seminars about in every one of your homes, every one of your settings.
Because if you could figure out for yourselves the answer to that question, you could figure out for yourselves the answer to all questions about not only how you deal with the mentally retarded, but how you deal with your own lives. How you understand your own mortality and your own life.
If there is a life devoid of value, then you have to ask the question, how valuable is your own life? If no life is devoid of value, if every life has value, if you believe that not only every day but every hour, not only every hour but every minute and every second of a person's life is sacred, which is, by the way, what you will find in your Testament, Old and New. If you believe that, then you've also said something about your larger beliefs about lots of things.
And then this question, parents, too, have rights. Parents, too, have rights. Of course, parents have rights, but how far do they go? Suppose the parent had a 25-year-old degenerate son who was a murderer, a rapist, a thief, a debaucher, an embezzler, kidnapper, nasty, truant from school, could the parent kill him? No. Baby Jane Doe is being debated, does Baby Jane live or die?
That's a question now. If Baby Jane Doe with the same spina bifida, the same conditions, the same problems, were 15 years old, nobody could ask that question anymore. Then why is it that you can kill a baby, a baby? Do the parents own the baby?
Well, there was just recently a distinguished scientist who said we could deal with this problem of the Baby Jane Does of the world. He said, "Why don't we have a new convention that the fetus remains a fetus until 10 days after birth? And then parents could see what they got. They don't like what they got, boom. They like what they got, they could take it home. But until 10 days after birth, the fetus… It's still a fetus. I mean, it's postpartum, but we still consider it a fetus."
I mean, you know, we're having all of these arguments on the abortion issue, can you have an abortion before the first trimester, after the first trimester. I mean, when is… when is, as the church would ask the question, when is that fetus touched by the hand of God? Or when is that fetus invested with a soul, huh?
Well, the scientist… a Nobel Laureate, by the way, in all seriousness asks why not wait until the baby is 10 days old? And the parent decided, "I want this one. This one looks all right. I mean, it's the right sex. I like the nose, five fingers on each hand, I'll take it." Or not. You stunned? Well, what do we do with Baby Jane Doe? That's what we're doing.
Now, there are other ways of dealing with that question. The state could say, "Look, you don't want the baby? You don't want the baby. All right, when you're ready, Mom, after you give birth, when you're ready, leave the hospital. It's always a possibility. It's no longer your responsibility."
I mean, why do we insist that the parent make a choice? That the parent make a decision? Or the court?
We had a case in Syracuse a few weeks ago, it hit all the national papers. This old man decided he didn't want to eat anymore. He was 85 years old, and he didn't want to eat anymore. He was in a convalescent home in Syracuse—right across from my university, right across the street from my own office—Plaza Nursing Home.
He didn't want to eat anymore. His wife had died, he was sick, and he stopped eating. Well, uh, the nursing home finally went to court to get the judge to make a decision after he had stopped eating for 40 days. The nursing home got a little nervous because this was a very prominent, had once been a very prominent man.
And the judge said, "If he doesn't want to eat, he doesn't have to eat." What the hell does the judge know about this? He's not a doctor, he's not a nutritionist, he's not a theologian. What does the judge know? The judge doesn't know a God damn thing about this. But the nursing home didn't want to be sitting there making the decision.
Of course, that's a different situation than Baby Jane Doe. This is a man who made a decision about himself. And you may want to argue with him about it. You may have wanted to argue with him. You can't anymore, he's gone now. He left this vale of tears.
But with the Baby Jane Does of the world, the baby isn't making the decision, the parents are. Or if you listen to Raymond Duff, the Yale University Professor of Pediatrics, he would set up moral communities, the doctor, the theologian, the clergyman, the parent. Together they would make a decision. But not the baby.
Well, you say, the baby can't. That's right, babies cannot make those decisions. So the parents should? That's the question.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to one of those all-night radio talk shows. Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Laureate, was being interviewed by some literary person who said, "Well, we know your books, lots of us have read your books. I want to talk about you and your life, your personal life. Is that okay?" and Mr. Singer says, "Sure, that's all right." And the interviewer said, "I understand you're a vegetarian," and Mr. Singer says, "Yes, I'm a vegetarian." And the interviewer said, "I understand, Mr. Singer, you eat no fowl at all." "No, I don't eat any fowl at all." And the interviewer asked him, "You don't eat fowl in order to preserve your health?" And Mr. Singer says, "No, that's not the reason. I don't eat fowl to preserve the chicken's health." You gotta remember the chicken.
That was the whole point this morning. Remember the chickens, not just yourselves. There are some people who are vegetarians not for themselves but for the chickens. And there are people who work in this business, not just for themselves. Of course, everybody has to earn a living. Nobody will criticize you for that. But you gotta remember the chickens. You gotta remember that everything we do shouldn't be only for ourselves.
There's been too much of that. In a general way, there's been too much of that in the world. In our own field, there's been too much of that.
What I'd like to do this afternoon is go into how we can make that world better, some favorite themes of mine, some new ones I've been thinking about. Because it isn't just enough to figure out that the world is naughty, we also have to try to figure out how to make it better.