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CDC Director's Comments About COVID Deaths Spur #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy Movement

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On the morning of Friday, January 14, 2022, ABC aired a segment with Rochelle Walensky, the current director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the interview, Good Morning America host Cecilia Vega asked the head of the CDC, “Is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus — that it’s potentially here to stay?”

Walensky’s response, as it was presented by the morning news show, triggered immediate outrage throughout the disabled community. She appeared to be jovial, explaining that those dying of COVID-19 were mostly people with preexisting conditions: “The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes: really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.”

Both ABC and the CDC made statements after the fact that her interview had been edited for time and was misrepresentative of Walensky’s statements as a whole. Good Morning America’s webpage swiftly replaced the shorter, modified clip with the original, longer, unedited version that more accurately placed her statement within a much larger exchange. This exchange highlighted the effectiveness of the vaccine in lowering death rates overall. However, the damage was already done. The hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy was born.

The hashtag has since taken on a life of its own on social media, with disabled people, adults, and children alike expressing their utter outrage and frustration.

Some have even gone as far as to connect the initial statement as it was misrepresented by Good Morning America as the CDC supporting Eugenics.

By Friday afternoon, it was announced on Twitter that over 150 different disability advocacy groups had united and created a petition to meet with the head of the CDC herself to discuss the matter and that a meeting was set.

Still the hashtag continues to spread because the sentiment that disabled lives are somehow inherently worth less is one our community has faced for some time now. Though this isolated incident is currently being addressed, it does little to change the sad reality we face every day, a reality that has grown exponentially worse since the start of this pandemic.

In the early days of the pandemic, when lockdowns were first suggested and it came to light that the vast majority of early deaths being reported were among the elderly and the disabled, our lives themselves became the topic of debate. Many people insisted that our lives were an acceptable loss if it meant bolstering the economy and reopening the country. Some callous people even went so far as to suggest that many of us were going to die early anyway and that we on average contributed less to society, that we were essentially an unnecessary burden that society could afford to shed.

The very concept that a disabled life is worth less and would be an acceptable loss for the betterment of society as a whole, that society should systematically cleanse itself of the weakest among us, is eugenics in a nutshell.

This is a sentiment I have addressed before, and one I have willingly lost friendships over.

My husband and I are both disabled. I have been diagnosed with severe major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, as well as having two meningioma tumors on my brain. My husband has bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a myriad of physical ailments and injuries. We both have been designated as disabled. Being given a disability label does not mean we are acceptable losses. No one who is disabled would be an acceptable loss. No disabled person who has died from this pandemic was an acceptable loss, either.

As a disabled person, this is the line I draw in the sand.

This is a mountain I will gladly die upon.


ALL disabled lives are worthy.

I am a mother, a wife, a friend. I am a writer, a journalist, and a mental health advocate. My disability is but one of many hats I wear. But even if I were none of those things, my life would still be worthy.

Our worth is not determined by how much we contribute to the economy.

Our worth is not diminished by being or becoming disabled.

While this hashtag may be new, our feelings on the matter are not. The fact of the matter is that we are collectively fed up with being treated as if our lives are worth less. We are tired of hearing people shrug off our potential deaths if it means they can go to a ball game or grab a drink at the bar. We are disgusted by people who argue that they shouldn’t have to wear a mask in order to do their part to help slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease because other people’s weakened immune systems are their own problem.

We are tired of being told that anyone at a higher risk who wishes to live in fear should just stay home. Many of us can’t. We have doctors’ appointments. We need groceries and other supplies. Many of us have families or jobs. We already are going out less, many times only when absolutely necessary. We get vaccinated if and when we can. We mask up, wash up, sanitize. We are doing our best to keep ourselves safe, but we need to live, too. We deserve to live, too.

It is bad enough that going out since the start of the pandemic has largely felt like trying to navigate our way through an active minefield. No masks to be seen on one side of us. Masks worn as chin straps on the other. Anti-vaxxers ahead. Holding our breath, stepping gingerly around, taking wide berths because we know one misstep, one exposure, could have potentially deadly consequences for some of us.

On top of that virtual minefield, we carry with us the sad knowledge that there are people out there, people among our neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even our family and friends, who legitimately are wishing us dead. There are people out there who would be happy to hear they could shed their masks and attend concerts and parties again, even if it meant wiping every last disabled person off the planet to get to that point.

There are people in history who believed as some people today do, that disabled lives are expendable, acceptable losses. The eugenics movement began in England in the 1880s and swiftly rose to popularity in the early 1900s in the United States. Eugenics-based legislation began to be passed in 1907, and by 1931, 29 states had such laws on the books. An estimated 64,000 people, focused primarily on the disabled, were sterilized during that period in an attempt to decrease the number of disabled people through selective breeding.

There are even historical leaders who have tried to systematically wipe out disabled people. Perhaps the most notable example was Nazi Germany under Hitler’s regime. Over a quarter-million people with disabilities were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust and hundreds of thousands more were forcibly sterilized and experimented on.

But not all historical figures take that cruel stance. Some of the wisest people the world has ever known have all encouraged society to embrace and care for disabled people. Mahatma Gandhi said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The fact that there are many people today who view disabled people as acceptable losses does not bode well for our society or our future.

Compassion is key. The Dalai Lama has stated, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time,” and, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Nelson Mandela said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

The question becomes, which side of history do we want to be on as a society? Perhaps in order to go forward and into our next chapter post-pandemic, we need to go backwards. Go back to a time when we valued such wisdom. Compassion matters. Disabled lives matter.


Image via YouTube.

Originally published: January 18, 2022
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