Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Executing people with intellectual disabilities is bad (and other obvious ethical claims).

So, I was pretty excited to see that the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up matters related to intellectual disability. Then I realized what was going on. Lawmakers are trying to decide whom we can and cannot execute. According to an article on disabilityscoop.com:

In its 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court prohibited states from executing anyone with “mental retardation.” Mental health professionals define it as substantial limitations in intellectual functions such as reasoning or problem-solving, limitations in adaptive behavior or “street smarts,” and evidence of the condition before age 18. (Mental retardation is the term used in law, but most clinicians and The Associated Press refer to the condition as intellectual disability.)

After the decision, most states stuck with the three-pronged clinical definition, but Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas set their own standards. Under Florida’s law, if you have an IQ over 70, you’re eligible for execution regardless of intellectual function or adaptive behavior.

The Supreme Court may create a more standardized nationwide criteria. 

I’m glad that there are laws protecting the intellectually disabled from execution. It shouldn’t take an act of the Supreme Court, however, to prevent states from setting such minimal standards. 

I once heard it said that the way in which a culture regards and treats people with disabilities reveals a great deal about its collective ethical character. I think this is true, and I fear that by this standard the ethical character that we display in the U.S. needs a serious upgrade. 

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