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Monday, June 3, 2024

Disability and the Kennedys

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrongA leading anti-vaxxer is presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  He has repeatedly compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.  Rolling Stone and Salon retracted an RFK article linking vaccines to autism.

Steve Silberman at Scientific American::
There’s a cautionary tale buried in the Kennedy family legacy that should serve as a stark warning to Shanahan as she amplifies her running mate’s message that people like her daughter are damaged goods. When RFK Jr.’s aunt, Rose Marie Kennedy, was born in 1918, a misguided nurse held her head in the birth canal for two hours while waiting for the obstetrician to arrive. As a result, the little girl, nicknamed Rosemary, struggled with learning disabilities and seizures for the rest of her life. By the time she was in her 20s, her father Joseph, a prominent businessman who was desperate to keep his daughter’s condition secret, arranged for her to have a lobotomy. The brain operation proved devastating to Rosemary, leaving her incontinent and unable to walk or speak coherently.

This tragedy proved to be the impetus for Rosemary's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, to found the Special Olympics in 1968 and become a pioneering advocate for the rights of disabled people. As the 35th president of the United States, Rosemary's older brother John signed the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act, a precursor to the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Championed by a bipartisan group of politicians including Senator Bob Dole and Rosemary's brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, the ADA was signed into law in 1990.

Although he owes his electoral prospects entirely to his family name, RFK Jr. seems disinterested in his family’s legacy of fighting for disability rights, dismissing the struggle of autistic people for dignity and respect in his book The Real Anthony Fauci as “a particular brand of autism epidemic denial known as ‘Neurodiversity.’” But if Shanahan’s belief in female empowerment extends to her own daughter, she has much to learn from the other Kennedys, who have publicly disowned her running mate’s spoiler campaign. And hopefully, as Echo comes of age and finds her own people, Shanahan will find she has much to learn from her, too.