Disability, punishment and attitude

Picture of powered wheelchair, from WikimediaI got a comment earlier today from WildKat (Kimberley Robbins) in response to a post I’d made in August about the incident in Saudi Arabia in which a man who had been paralysed in an attack demanded that the judge have the same injury inflicted on his attacker. The comment made the point that, besides my point that it was impossible to replicate both the original injury and its consequences, another factor is the attitude of the person who gets paralysed, who could go into a deep depression or “be strong enough to accept it, shed his guilty conscience of the crime he committed (because he got payback, if you will) and have a higher quality of life than he once did because of the injury”.

This could, however, be said about this man’s victim; he is obviously very angry about having been paralysed, hence his desire for retaliation in kind. This type of punishment (called qisaas in Arabic) is standard for deliberate bodily injuries in Islamic law, as long as the injury can be replicated, which is not the case with internal injuries, particularly spinal cord injuries in which an injury at the same level in two people can produce different results, and there are some places in the spinal cord where this is more true than others, as I mentioned in my original post. The cause of the controversy was that the demand had been made and the judge had investigated, and found that at least one hospital was unwilling to perform the surgery, not that the operation had been done or had been decided on.

Kim mentioned that her quality of life had been better since her injury, but that is a very unusual situation and in many ways specific to her (such as the cerebral palsy it largely relieved her of). I would suppose that most people who have sustained spinal cord injuries were not extremely bitter but certainly would not say that it has improved their quality of life. People’s attitude may well depend on how the injury happened, and if it was caused by an assault, or by an accident involving a drunken or otherwise negligent driver, they are likely to be more negative about their situation than if it was a pure accident or an illness (as in Kim’s case) that caused it. There is also the question of what consequences the injury had, besides the usual changes a SCI brings: if someone cannot live with their family or in their own home and is forced into an institution, they are likely to feel more negatively about their injury than if they could live independently or with their family.

Ultimately, people do not welcome injury of any sort, and people whose faculties are intact want them to stay that way, and that is why we have punishments for injuring people. People react to injuries, or assaults, in different ways, and it shouldn’t have any bearing on how we deal with those who inflict them; I remember reading an interview with an elderly rape victim in the early 1990s who said that her attack had not caused her to feel shame or terrible trauma, but this is far from being the case for most rape victims and should not have lessened the rapist’s sentence had he been caught (he was in fact responsible for several rapes and murders but was identified as such after he committed suicide).

People are different, and much as some people like different foods or clothes to others, some people will adjust to radical changes in their circumstances, whether it be disability or poverty, differently from others. Of course, there are some with SCI who talk of their life being a living hell or being imprisoned in their own bodies, and loudly claim that not enough research is being done even though a lot of money is being spent on such research, it has had prominent celebrity support (Christopher Reeve, for example), and they are certainly not prisoners (unlike someone with severe ME, who may be a young girl shut in a dark room for years and suffering intense pain and other distressing symptoms, and there is a definite dearth of research into that illness). But it’s no use for someone who has adjusted fairly easily to a spinal cord injury saying of someone who doesn’t, “why can’t he/she feel like me?”, because most people who sustain such injuries just don’t.

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