“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Celebrating the past: Honoring the legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy"

That was the title of a presentation given to the entire membership this morning at the AAIDD conference. The majority of the presentation centered on Mrs. Shriver who was an amazing advocate for persons with intellectual disabilities in America. Her brothers President Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy are the ones often credited with the actual programs and legislation that affected individuals with disabilities, but as one of the presenters indicated quoting Sen. Kennedy, "It was all Eunice!" I doubt that is entirely true, but it was clear nontheless from the presentation that she was the momentum behind much of the policy that impacts people with a wide variety of disabilities. For a more complete discussion of her contributions, I would refer you to an article by Dr. David Braddock entitled, "Honoring Eunice Kennedy Shriver's Legacy in Intellectual Disability" published in the journal, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, vol 48, number 1, February 2010.

There were several things about the presentation about Mrs. Shriver, however, that I was unaware of. I plan to become a student of her life in the future, but these two things were quite remarkable.

First is that she was a very devout Catholic. Steven Eidelman one of the presenters today who knew Mrs. Shriver personally, indicated that she would attend Mass twice a day, rain or shine, going to a little church near where their offices were. I love knowing that someone having such a profound impact on our country in the area of disability, was at least partially motivated by her faith in God. I wish that had been explored much more in the presentation, but it was mentioned and described as a critical part of who she was.

The second was that she was staunchly pro life. Another of the presenters, Deborah Spitalnik who was clearly not pro life, even apologized for giving Mrs. Shriver that label. Obviously, in the circles she runs in, to be called pro life is to be denegrated. How difficult for her (Spitalnik) to reconcile the life of and contributions of Mrs. Shriver with her pro life stance. She concluded her comments with a comparison of Sen. Kennedy and Mrs. Shriver as being loving family members on opposite sides of the issue and how wonderful that was. But there were the political jokes or innuendo about Bush or others who might disagree with her. Yet she herself could not even use the term pro life without an apology for characterizing Mrs. Shriver that way.

To me, it is not Mrs. Shriver who was inconsistent in her position towards life and intellectual disability, it is those like Spitalnik who are inconsistent. How can someone be in an organization like AAIDD which supposedly is all about what is best for persons with intellectual and developmental disability and advocate for the taking of their lives via abortion. This has been the case in the past as well with the AAIDD stage being given to those who would "prevent" intellectual disability via abortion. To me it is painfully inconsistent.

But praise and thank God for the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She made her mark on the country and the world as well, bettering the lives of persons with disabilities in myriad ways. To quote the closing paragraph of the Braddock article mentioned above,
So, in every country across the globe, in every city, town and remote village - and she touched almost all of them during her life - let the word go forth to honor the legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.


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