The Catholic Thing
Helping the Disabled: Fact and Fiction Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 14 December 2012

Recall the crippled man in scripture who lay by the Bethesda pool for thirty-eight years and no one, not a single person, helped him into the pool when the water was troubled by the angel. That is what it is like for most disabled people around this world, most especially in poor countries. No one is there to help them.

Dozens of countries have ratified a U.N. treaty to assist persons with disabilities. This treaty came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate last week and was defeated. Though it garnered sixty-one votes, it still fell five votes short of the required two-thirds for treaty ratification.

Senate sponsor John Kerry said it was the saddest day of his twenty-eight years in the senate. He was incredulous that thirty-eight Republicans voted against it even though a feeble Senator Bob Dole, crippled by action in World War II, was wheeled out onto the floor during voting.

This bill was defeated even though it had what seemed like the unanimous and enthusiastic support of all the disabilities groups and veteran’s groups who increasingly represent members who are disabled from war. If you went up to Capitol Hill in the days prior to the vote, there was practically a gridlock of canes and wheelchairs.

Proponents said the treaty would help wounded warriors and other disabled Americans when they traveled overseas. U.S. ratification, they claimed, would raise the rest of the world not just to the standards of the U.N. treaty but would raise the rest of the world up to the much higher standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So how could something so seemingly wonderful and needed end in defeat?

First, there was the life issue. This was the first hard-law binding treaty that includes the term “reproductive health.” It appears benignly in the document as a category of nondiscrimination, which means that if a country provides reproductive healthcare to its citizens, it must include people with disabilities. As the language exists, it would create no new rights and no right to abortion.

There is, however, no truly benign language in U.N. documents because U.N. documents come under the control of U.N. committees that have a nasty habit of reinterpreting them. For instance, the CEDAW treaty on women’s rights is silent on abortion and does not even mention reproductive health. Yet its overseeing committee has decreed abortion a binding part of the treaty. So even benign language in the disabilities treaty is a threat to unborn children.

Second, homeschoolers were upset about the treaty because it has been used in New Zealand to restrict homeschooling of disabled children.

Third, conservatives in general oppose U.N. treaties of any kind because they believe it is a bad idea to get involved in the great spider web of U.N. agreements that only serve to intrude upon American sovereignty. U.N. committees and U.N. special rapporteurs are especially meddlesome. And even though the treaty is not “self-executing,” that is, it would still require legislative action to bring it into force, conservatives are wary of activist judges and justices.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the juvenile death penalty, the majority decision cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty the United States has never ratified. Would they be any less restrained in citing controversial passages in a treaty that we have ratified? Doubtful. It is at least conceivable that the treaty could be referenced in a future case upholding Roe v. Wade.

In the end, Kerry and treaty proponents simply did not make their case. They said U.S. ratification was necessary so that other countries to would live up to their treaty obligations. For instance, on Alexanderplatz in Berlin there is a Burger King with restroom facilities down a steep flight of stairs. Kerry wants us to believe that Germany, a signatory to the treaty, is waiting for our ratification in order to build an elevator to that bathroom. Or that wheel chair cutouts will only appear in Rome after America ratifies this treaty. In fact, U.S. ratification would not affect any country.

Germany is a first-world country as is Italy, and disabled persons struggle in each of them. Just imagine how little effect ratification of this treaty has had in Kazakhstan or Ecuador or Tunisia or any other developing country on persons with disabilities.

Advocates of U.N. treaties tend to make exaggerated, even extravagant claims about what U.S. ratification would mean. A few years ago a woman actually testified before the Senate that U.S. ratification of the Women’s Rights Treaty would finally stop the horror of Afghan women getting acid thrown in their faces. This is simply ridiculous.

The fact is there is no national interest in the U.S. ratifying this treaty. It would not help American servicemen or others with disabilities one iota when they travel or work overseas.

And at the end of the day, if the reproductive health language is turned for abortion purposes, the treaty could be used against persons with disabilities. After all, 80 percent of persons with disabilities never make it out of the womb because of abortion. Abortion-on-demand John Kerry – who is a candidate to become Secretary of State, or maybe of Defense, never mentioned that inconvenient fact. And he and his allies intend to bring the treaty back for another vote soon.

Very few countries have the nerve to stand up to the United Nations and its treaty-making machinery. America is one. The other is the Holy See. The Holy See opposed this treaty at its inception and it opposes it now. The Church probably cares for more disabled persons than any other group in the world. Here we are 2,000 years later and we are still carrying the crippled man into the healing water.

And we do it without a treaty.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, December 13, 2012
Mr Ruse,
I will never forget seeing "Mr Dole" on
the house floor the day of the vote,how feeble
this "Giant of a man and American",who sacrificed
so much for all of us.
The day of the vote I could not get him out of my
mind,the "Picture was clear"and he must have felt
just crushed!
I pray for all of us with that "Label" as "Disabled",
and hope that we can someday be on the same playing
field as all people World wide.
Thanks for a wonderful article I learned a ton!
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, December 14, 2012
"When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the juvenile death penalty, the majority decision cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty the United States has never ratified."

A favourite ploy amongst jurists is to claim that a certain treaty has become part of customary international law and so binding on non-signatories. The first example I can think of was the Briand-Kellogg Pact
written by Athanasius, December 14, 2012
I don't trust anything the UN does. It is basically a front organization for statists and Islamists for anti-Christian and anti-Semitic activity. One believes the state is god, the other believes God is willful and arbitrary. Both are totalitarian in nature. These people are masters at selling their utopian schemes as humanitarian ideals, but the reality always turns out to actually help the strong and politically well-connected exploit the weak.

It was ideas such as these that Pope Benedict XVI spoke against at Regensburg on 9/12/06.
written by Dave, December 14, 2012
Bravo, Mr. Ruse! Thanks for always looking under the hood and advising us to do the same, especially on sneaky provisions to expand abortion and the rest of the "full spectrum." SCOTUS may go ahead and cite this treaty in future decisions, as it did with the Convention on the Rights of Children, but let it not be because the US ratified a treaty that SCOTUS has to uphold.

A second, and, in my view, larger issue, is for more of us who are pro-life to be engaged in the corporal works of mercy both for their own sake and also because support to those who need the works also serves to undercut the perceived need for abortion and other aspects of the "full spectrum." As Bl. John Paul II would have put it, if we live solidarity and subsidiarity better, a lot of these evils are mitigated and we advance the coming of the New Springtime of Christianity.
written by diaperman, December 14, 2012
The main line of argument you make seems to rest not so much on the language of the treaty itself or the intent of its advocates but fears about where it might lead. Seems like Catholic conservatives are making this sort of argument alot these days about alot of things.

You certainly know alot more about the UN than I do, and have alot of experience staking out tactical positions where its measures are concerned, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

But when I heard about the Senate's rejection of the treaty honestly my first reaction was that the arguments against it seemed rather paranoid. I'll reconsider my first take in light of your piece.

It is probably moot however since the new Senate may well ratify the treaty anyway.
written by Maggie-Louise, December 14, 2012
"and hope that we can someday be on the same playing
field as all people World wide. "

Have no fear, Mr. Jack, CT. If we keep going the way we have been going in the past few years, we will be "on the same playing field as all the people worldwide". Our team is already assembled, the sky-boxes are full, and the stands are almost full. The loss of one or two generations of us old folks and the addition of one or two new generations (fewer in number though they will be) should fill the few empty seats left.
written by Austin Ruse, December 14, 2012
Jack, Actually the American playing field for the disabled is far and away superior to any country that has signed the treaty.
written by Dave, December 14, 2012
Austin is absolutely right about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- and about the willingness of Americans to accommodate those with disabilities of any kind. We are a kind people, and we are light years ahead of everyone else.

I think that diaperman (might I urge you on behalf of myself and of your other interlocutors here to adopt a different nom-de-plume?) has misunderstood Austin's point rather completely. Austin is speaking about the Trojan Horse. This very readily used tactic has us all unwittingly accepting all kinds of things that we would not accept were they in plain view; the tactic is to hide them within something else whose goodness is so evident that to reject the wrapper is to be seen as "mean," "bad," "hateful," you pick the word. The devil, as they say, is in the details; and if people look under the hood and say no thanks, or, putting it another way, do pay attention to the man behind the curtain, rather than obligate the Nation to who knows what, this strikes me as a good thing, not a bad thing.

And I might add that nothing stops anyone, or any group of people, from doing something on their own initiative. Not every problem has to be, or should be, solved by "the Government." There was a time when we solved our own. We rely far too much on "Government" to "fix" things that the Government in the end cannot, nor should not fix. But this would require us to become a far more virtuous people than we currently are. Yet for that, too, there is grace...
written by Charles E Flynn, December 14, 2012
Thank you for mentioning that the Holy See opposed the treaty, which I had not seen reported elsewhere.
written by Jack,CT, December 14, 2012
@Austin,you have a great point,I am blessed
to live where I do!,Jack

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