Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lesser of Two Evils

It's not often that I am at a loss for words. But I was in the case of the two women with Down's Syndrome who were used as 'suicide', or perhaps more accurately, homicide, bombers earlier this month.

It has now come to light that the acting director of a Baghdad psychiatric hospital has been arrested on suspicion of supplying the two woman to al-Qaida. Apparently even before his arrest, U.S. officials believed that al-Qaida was scouring Iraq’s hospitals for mentally impaired patients whom it could dupe into acting as suicide bombers. About half a dozen cases are suspected.
The attraction of mentally impaired women to al-Qaida was obvious, he said. Being women, they could get close to targets with less chance of being stopped or searched. Being mentally impaired, they were "less likely to make a rational judgment about what they are being asked to do."
Obviously a sick bastard. No doubt just one among many. I am glad they found him and, quite frankly, should he be found guilty, I would consider merely strapping a bomb to him and detonating it by remote control to be letting him off too easy.

And although in the initial reports there was conflicting comments as to whether or not the women were actually mentally challenged, that too appears to be cleared up now. And in a chilling way. By no less than their severed heads, recovered from the wreckage. One very obviously had Down's Syndrome and the other had the characteristic facial features associated with the disorder, although her symptoms were less pronounced. Perhaps now you can better understand my feelings towards 'the good doctor'.

But in the midst of the great horror that is this story, there is another, much smaller thing that niggles at me. See if you can pick it out.

"They (the security forces) arrested the acting director, accusing him of working with al-Qaida and recruiting mentally ill women and using them in suicide bombing operations," a hospital official said.
The women with Down's Syndrome were mentally challenged, not mentally ill. A small thing, nothing but nit-picking, some might say. And in the context of the evil inherent in these events, I agree. Whether the victims were mentally ill or mentally challenged, it matters not; whoever did this was simply and purely evil.

But in so many media stories, you will see this same mistake made. The terms 'mentally ill' and 'mentally challenged' are used interchangably, like they mean the same thing. I can only assume that many journalists simply don't know the difference. Which is ironic when you consider that they are the ones that are suppose to be reporting the news to us, meaning they are suppose to be out there, "uncovering the facts". Or not, I suppose.

Because there is a difference, you see. And yes, it does actually matter. Individuals whom we now refer to as "mentally challenged" are those whom we use to call "mentally retarded". This is not at all the same condition as individuals who suffer from mental illness. People who suffer from schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and autism, for example, are considered mentally ill. People with Down's Syndrome are, often along with other medical conditions, mentally challenged.

And just as many seem to lump the two groups together in their minds and use the terms interchangably, so too it seems there are those who think that the two groups require the same services and, for example, can always be housed together in the same group home and all shall be well. That kind of thinking has had tragic results in the past, when proper sepervision was not in place and individuals who were severely mentally ill have brutally killed those who were mentally challenged.

But now, even I have to query why I am focusing on this point given the context of this story. And as I turn it over in my mind, the answer I believe is two-fold: Although I did immediately notice the error in the article, just as I do every time I see the terms used interchangably, and yes, it did irk me; perhaps the reason it stayed with me as it did is it is easier for my mind to grapple with that than with the horror that is the real story.


Casdok said...

I too am at a loss for hearing this news. Sickening.

Great post, more awerness on this issue is needed. Even though over here we have completely different terms; Mental health and learning disability, as you say people just lump them together. And yes it does matter very much. Very very much.

Kris, in New England said...

Michelle, I get your last point. It's almost unbearable to consider that a person could do such a thing, especially with the most vulnerable of our population.

MMC said...

Thanks to you both. I must confess that I wrote all but the last paragraph of this post and thought ... "What the hell are you sayin?! You must be nuts!" Hence, the last paragraph.