Reports that one in six disabled persons in New York over the last decade have died from preventable causes has drawn sharp criticism from local media and disability advocates.
“We are devaluing these people,” Bobby Schindler of the Life and Hope Network told CNA, and “we are seeing” this kind of treatment “rationalized and justified everyday.”
The New York Times outlined death reports on Nov. 5 of developmentally disabled persons throughout the last 10 years. The newspaper found that those receiving care in New York died from unnatural causes at what appears to be an unusually high rate.
One in six deaths, around 1,200 total, within state and privately run homes were blamed on unnatural or unknown causes. These numbers compare with one in 25 in Massachusetts and Connecticut which are two of the few states that track similar data.
The New York case files suggest that the deaths were caused by neglect and could have been easily prevented, as they involved scenarios of disabled persons drowning, choking on food or falling down stairs.
The paper profiled a story of 41-year-old James Michael Taylor, whose evening bath in 2005 “became a death sentence” when a caretaker placed him in a tub, turned on the water and left the room.
Taylor, a quadriplegic who had the ability of a newborn to lift his head, slowly drowned in the next 15 minutes as the water rose over his body.
Editors from Albany's Times Union newspaper called the situation a “disgrace,” especially given that the state spends $10 billion a year in attempt to take care of the developmentally disabled.
“New York should be doing more than just starting to catch up to other states,” the editors said in a Nov. 9 blog post. “Its system should be a national model.”
In an interview with CNA, Bobby Schindler—whose sister Terri Schiavo died of starvation in 2005 after her husband won the right in court to remove her feeding tube—said that the figures reflect society's growing callousness toward the disability community.
“It's always really disturbed and troubled me that because a person's physical appearance changes, because a person isn't able to do all the things an able bodied person can do, somehow their life is devalued,” he said.
“We saw this in Terri's case,” Schindler added. “She was simply a woman with a disability and something that would have been thought of as barbaric not even that long ago happens every day and is ordinary today, sadly enough.”
Schindler founded the Life and Hope Network soon after Schiavo's death, which has given legal help over the last several years to more than 1,000 families of disabled persons facing similar issues.