When the Disabled Die, the World Stays Silent

I struggled to find the words for the horror of the massacre of nineteen disabled people in Japan last year, and for my sorrow at the lack of response from the rest of the world. Neither one surprised me.

ISIS banner didn’t fly over this tragedy, nor the controversy of racial politics, or even a beautiful face to run on the 24-hour news cycle, and so the media could not whip the masses into a panic for our own safety. There were no cell phone calls or last minute text messages to family and friends with which to wrench our hearts.

They died as they had lived, disconnected from the world. And the world shrugged because we are disconnected from them. “It’s better that disabled people disappear,” the killer told police.

Do All Lives Matter?

When a movie theater was shot up by a mad man, we all shuddered in horror, because we could put ourselves into the shoes of the targets in the theater. When children were massacred at their school in Sandy Hook, we all wept with their families and held our children tighter, because we could empathize with the pain and horror of those poor parents. When ISIS operatives slaughtered concert-goers in Paris, we were suddenly all French as we imagined the terror and confusion of those in the concert hall.

Every horrific film released by DAESH is discussed in great detail and minutiae so even by those who don’t watch it can imagine the scene in all its horror. It is the modern day snuff film and gore porn, with a side of the adrenaline rush which comes from fear.

Our neighborhood is bedecked with blue ribbons because “Blue Lives Matter,” and there have been marches all over the country because “Black Lives Matter.” There are raging debates on social media that “All Lives Matter,” but the reality is that most people don’t really think they do.

A woman pregnant with a child diagnosed with disabilities before birth spends the entirety of her pregnancy being counseled on the wisdom of termination and told that to force anyone to live such a life is needlessly cruel. European babies who survive pregnancy and are born face the possibility of “humane euthanasia” by medical personnel, with or without the consent of their parents. Hollywood and popular culture celebrate the idea of disabled people “bravely” choosing euthanasia over living a life which might be burdensome to someone else.

The able-bodied look at these seemingly imperfect lives with a politely concealed horror, not able to imagine any beauty to a life lived without speech, self-sufficiency, or freedom. As a society, we are repulsed by their dependence and imperfection, and instinctively react with horror at the suggestion that we might be trapped in such a life. Surely, then, death, any kind of death, would free both the disabled person and those “trapped” in a life of servitude as caregivers.

The World is Silent

Which is why the world is silent in the aftermath of a madman stabbing and slashing nineteen profoundly disabled adults to death because of who they were.

Shot for being Black is a tragedy. Shot for being gay is a tragedy. Shot for being French is a tragedy. Murdered for being a Catholic priest is a tragedy. But murdered for being disabled? We secretly wonder if it wasn’t a mercy, and if maybe they’re better off. Most of us would rather not think about their deaths any more than we thought about their lives, because for most of the world, their disabled lives never really mattered at all.


Rebecca Frech is a writer and the mother of nine children (two saints and seven in training). She’s the author of a guide to homeschooling, Teaching in Your TiaraA longer version of “When the Disabled Die” appeared on her weblog Backward in High HeelsThe story of the massacre can be found here. For more on “humane euthanasia,” see here.


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