By Daniel J. Vance


  Millions of vulnerable Americans with severe disabilities have been physically and/or emotionally abused the last fifty years. The abuse for some has been flagrant, as with freak shows, primitive electric shock therapy or lobotomies. For others the abuse has been an icy stare or schoolyard taunt. As a nation, this is history we conveniently forget.

  Let us hope in fifty years we haven't conveniently forgotten what is transpiring today.

  For one, Terri Schindler-Schiavo, 39, of St. Petersburg, Florida, is nearing death, and may already be dead by the time you read this. She is a quadriplegic who can breathe, see, swallow, make noise, move her limbs, and maintain a heartbeat on her own.

  For years her husband has wanted her feeding tube pulled and Florida courts seem to be clearing the deck for this to occur. They say she is in a "persistent vegetative state."

  And yet Sarah Green Mele, a speech-language pathologist from top-rated Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has sworn in an affidavit to a Florida judge that Schindler-Schiavo is a "truly suitable candidate for speech language therapy."

  With her feeding tube pulled, Schindler-Schiavo will slowly starve. Hers is a high-profile test case. Disability rights organizations and quadriplegics the world over are frightened.

  Of course, such mistreatment isn't limited to the U.S.

  Two months ago I first learned of a shocking practice: medical facilities in Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia regularly confine persons with a variety of mental disabilities to locked cage beds.

  The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC), which assists Eastern Europeans with mental disabilities, has exposed this callous practice. "Cage beds" are beds with a metal cage over top. Most resemble chain-link fence dog kennels.

  MDAC says these medical facilities use locked cage beds to control patients with mental retardation, psychiatric problems, and dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. The beds are used primarily to punish unruly patients and to act as a substitute for lack of staffing.

  The Indianapolis-based Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) first emailed me this news. Executive Director LisaRose Hall said, "The use of cage beds is disturbing. There is the shock that such inhumane treatment exists. There is the trauma of the person caged and his or her loved one's grief. The devaluation of the divine gift of life is perhaps most disturbing of all."

  Let us not conveniently forget.

  See www.terrisfight.org, www.ccpd.org or www.danieljvance.com