“Make Them Whole”–The Controversial Cure Post

You knew it was coming.

Okay, so maybe you didn’t. But since this blog is dedicated to the real lives and experiences of people with disabilities, I think it would be negligent not to address the phenomenon of “cure.” For so many people without disabilities, cure represents everyone’s fondest hopes. If disabilities could be cured, they say, people with disabilities would be “normal.” We wouldn’t have to worry about, accomodate, provide for, care for, or pay for them, because they could care for themselves. The Cure, elusive though it may be, is the best thing for all society, and so those who can–which conveniently excludes the “poor disabled person”–should work to find it. Meanwhile, we can continue to hold out hope for The Cure by splashing it all over the media. I’m talking about books, movies, television, televangelists, and research foundations whose sole purpose is finding The Cure.

You do know what I’m gonna say to that attitude, don’t you?

Right. It’s baloney.

Please understand what I am not saying. I am not saying searching for The Cure is in itself bad. Science, technology, and the medical field has made some huge strides in the past century or so, and if they can use those strides to prevent or cure disabilities, that’s fine–as long as the cure is something the person with a disability actually wants. That is, if a person who’s deaf actually wants a cochlear implant (which, by the way, does not “cure” deafness as many people believe), then he or she should get one. But–but, but, BUT–he or she should not be coerced or coaxed into getting the implant because deafness is “wrong” or a “defect.”

Therein, I think, lies one central problem with The Cure. So often, people without disabilities see the cure as a solution to what is “wrong” with a person who has a disability. Yet, what would that solution ultimately do? That’s right–it would ultimately make that person just like everyone else–as in, acceptable to us. Such an attitude perpetuates the idea there is a line between “us” and “them” (“them” being those who have disabilities), and that they must change for us in order to be accepted.

For example: let’s say you have a child with cerebral palsy. It could be mild or severe–doesn’t matter. Your child is still very young–say, newborn to three or so. But you’ve already been told, courtesy of “the experts,” what he or she will never be able to do (instead of the myriad of things he or she probably WILL be able to do, which is a bad construct in itself). Your dreams of seeing him throw a football, of seeing her star in her ballet recital, are dashed. But, but, BUT.

What if someone offered you The Cure?

You might take it. And if you did, I would be the last to judge you. Remember, I have CP too, and I freely admit that I have prayed for a cure on more than one occasion, facedown with my nose in the carpet. And I’d venture to say, you might be right to take it, considering how society still views people with disabilities (as covered in other posts). What parent would want his or her child to go through that?

But think of it this way. What if The Cure presented very high, very real risks to your child? What if it backfired, and your child ended up “worse” than before (a construct we have thanks to a disability hierarchy that also needs to go out the window). And what if–as often happens–“the experts”–the doctor, the therapists, whoever–pushed you to take The Cure because of a bleak prognosis? What if their pervading attitude was, “you must accept our cure because otherwise, your child will be considered abnormal and wrong?”

Not so easy a choice, is it? And the fact is, we as a society–myself included becuase, remember, I used to think like this–only make it harder. Don’t believe me? Okay. Let’s take a look at a few of my famous examples.

  • Children’s Books and Films. I’m talking about The Secret Garden, Heidi, What Katie Did, Pollyanna, and so many others. True, these were written and filmed centuries ago, and yes, thankfully,our perception of disability has undergone major change since then. The problem is, these stories are classics, and so they endure. That in itself is a good thing; I loved these stories as a kid, as would many other kids, I’m sure. Yet, what endures with this “classic” label is the disability construct the authors wrote about. Think about it. Klara, with Heidi’s help, works long and hard, and is rewarded by being able to walk again. Colin, too, walks again, and becomes far less spoiled. Katie and Pollyanna end their books with paralysis, but they are given the promise of a miracle–paralysis-reversing operations. Fine for the era in which these stories were written and/or filmed–but what do they truly teach? They appear to teach that (1. If you work hard enough, your disability will be cured/go away, and (2. Disability, and the subsequent cure, is the only way an unlikeable character can become less self-absorbed or spoiled, and thus a likeable person.

I. Don’t. Think. So.

Think about it. What would’ve happened if, instead of pinning all their hopes on cures, the families and friends of Klara and Colin, and many others, had looked beyond the disability? Pushed them to do whatever they could, as well as they could, instead of spoiling and pampering them? Opened the real world to them?

Yeah–I like that better, too. The truth is, no matter how hard the person with a disability works or wishes on a star, a cure may not be there (heck, we can’t even cure the common cold yet). Plus, there’s always the impossible question: which disability would you cure first? How can you choose? Then again, there are those who claim all disabilities can be cured, like:

  • Televangelists. I’m going to say something some of you won’t like: in general, I have no use for televangelism. And yes, that includes the 700 Club and all its relatives. Why? Not because of theological differences. At our core, I think we can all agree Jesus is the one and only Savior. No–I dislike televangelism because of the manmade “cures” it promotes. As in, “Donate X amount of money, and all your problems will disappear. Pray hard enough, and the chains of abuse and addiction will permanently fall off, never to be felt again. Come to us, and your disability will be healed.” Are there authentic faith healers? Yes, probably. Are there authentic healings within the church? Yes again. But on the other hand, why does the church perpetuate The Cure as the only solution to disability, instead of accepting and opening real-life possibilities to its congregants with disabilities? (For more on this, see my post on disability and the church).
  • Language. Speaking directly to those with disabilities, and their families, friends, and colleagues for a moment: how many times have you heard pitying remarks about your disability? How many times have you heard “I’m praying/raising money for a cure? Hang in there; you’ll walk again soon (a la Christopher Reeve)?” “If only something could make them whole…”

This last one actually happened to me when I was ten. I was extremely upset because I had to get another round of Bo-Tox shots (a temporary “cure” that only works for a few months at a time). My grandmother was along for the trip, and she said: “If I could, I would make you whole and take your place.”

Now of course, at ten years old, I didn’t know why this bothered me. But it did, and still does. Why? Because the remark, though well-intentioned, insinuated I was not whole. Broken. “Wrong.”

So no–don’t give up looking for cures, because they may be out there. But in the meantime, instead of treating the person with a disability in your life as someone whose only hope is The Cure, make some changes. Instead of asking him or her to change for you (walk, talk, and act the way “normal” people do), become open to accommodation and new ways of doing ordinary things. Ways that will include people with disabilities–as whole, functioning people filled with potential–in real, natural lives.



    1. Hi, Debtfree,

      You may have seen other posts about The Cure in other blogs. And yes, I get some of the ideas for my material from disabilityisnatural.com. But the personal examples are all mine, as are the sometimes sarcastic rhetorical replies. 🙂

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