On March 1, thousands of people around the world took a moment to grieve. They took a moment out of their busy lives to mourn for people that most of them have never met. But they’re not victims of a disease, or an illness, not people affected by some specific tragedy or crime. March 1 is the date of the yearly Disability Day of Mourning, the day where we mourn for disabled people killed by their siblings, children, partners, parents or other caregivers.
Shockingly, this is not an uncommon occurrence. According to the Disability Day of Mourning website, over 100 disabled people were murdered by caregivers or similar people in 2019. It’s also important to note, as the website does, that they search in English, so there are likely many more cases that simply didn’t get English news coverage. Many of those murdered in 2018 were elderly, people with dementia or mobility issues whose caregivers simply stopped caring. Others were children, especially autistic children, who committed the crime of not being “normal.”
There was Elvis Dry, a disabled veteran who used a wheelchair. He was murdered by his live-in caregiver, burned to death and left in the backyard. There was Mia Edmundson, who had a cardiac defect and no spleen. Her mother didn’t fill the prescriptions she needed or take the girl to the doctor, and she died of pneumonia. There was Vivek Kakadiya, who The Times of India reported had a learning disability. His murderer, his sister-in-law, reportedly confessed to killing him because “she had felt Vivek to be a burden which she would have to carry for the rest of her life.”
It’s that last case in particular that outlines the reason that many disabled people are murdered. Looking past the cases of neglect or abuse for a moment and simply at the cases that were intentional, many of them were either supposedly due to some belief that the person was suffering and would be better off dead, or because the person was a burden. This isn’t entirely surprising; society perpetuates the belief that disabled people’s lives are worth less because of their disabilities. Society looks at these cases and finds excuses.
Richard and Alma Shaver were happily married for 60 years. His whole life was about her, one daughter said. Then came Alzheimer's.https://t.co/4xeX0lGfSn
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 29, 2019
This was never more clear than in a case that happened towards the end of last year. Alma Shaver, a woman who had dementia, was murdered by her husband Richard in what many in the media described as a mercy killing. The New York Times wrote an article effectively romanticizing the murder, talking about how they had been soulmates. They decided that it didn’t matter that her husband had murdered her. She was disabled and he was in pain because she was so that made it understandable. That made it somehow more okay than if you or I walked down the street and shot a random person.
Often, the media focuses on the caregivers in these cases. They look at the husbands and the wives and the parents and say oh, but see, it was so hard to take care of their relative/partner/friend. Look how much of a burden they were on their families, on society, on their friends. They deserved to die for that, see? Society and people say yes. In 2014, Dr. Phil had a guest on his show named Kelli Stapleton. Stapleton attempted to murder her autistic 14-year-old daughter. Dr. Phil recommended “In Kelli’s case…I don’t think that serving time behind bars is the best solution.” For attempting to murder a 14-year-old child, jail was going to be too harsh?
In 2019, 113 people were murdered by their caregivers. At least that many, because there are without question more whose deaths did not get enough media coverage to be noticed. Innocent people, many of whose lives were cut short at least in part because people who were supposed to care about them decided that their lives would be easier if they were dead.
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Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.