The Magazine

A Worthwhile U.N. Initiative!

A welcome defense of the disabled from an unlikely organization.

Jan 29, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 19 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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That latter category will include the United States. Even though Richard T. Miller, the U.S. representative to the negotiations, "warmly" congratulated "all those involved in this monumental and historic process," and despite our having been deeply involved in its negotiation, the United States announced, back in 2003, it would not "become party" to the convention. The stated reason was that the United States already has laws--particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)--that sufficiently protect the rights of disabled people. There are certainly valid reasons for refusing to sign the convention--such as a principled refusal to compromise national sovereignty--but the existence of the ADA is not one of them, since that law omits the explicit protections against medical discrimination that are centerpieces of the U.N. agreement. (The Vatican has stated it, too, will not sign the convention out of fear that vague language about "reproductive health" could promote abortion.)

Regardless of America's nonparticipation, much good should come from the adoption of the convention. First, the agreement creates an international standard of equal rights for people with disabilities. Since many nations care deeply about the views of the "international community," the convention could influence attitudes and legal protections for disabled people around the world. Formal adoption of the convention could also provide a rationale for international court cases being filed to enforce its provisions. Since many nations care deeply about the views of the "international community"--including, we have recently seen, some United States Supreme Court justices--the convention could influence attitudes and legal protections for disabled people around the world.

There is another lesson here. The positive impact that C-FAM and other conservative NGOs had on the terms of the convention--for example, the food and fluids provision--teaches a valuable lesson. Many conservative organizations eschew obtaining NGO status with the United Nations because they loathe internationalism, disdain the U.N., and expect America not to be bound by these agreements.

But such standoffishness is woefully shortsighted. Like it or not, many of the most important social and legal policies of the twenty-first century are going to be materially influenced by international protocols such as this one. These agreements are molded substantially behind the scenes by NGOs--most of which are currently leftist in their political outlooks and relativistic in their social orientation. This makes for a stacked deck. If conservatives hope to influence the moral values of the future, they are going to have to hold their collective noses and get into the game.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.