Posted on Sunday, September 13th, 2009 at 2:54 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Differently abled adults are often treated like children, because it is assumed that they have a diminished mental capacity. The inability to complete certain tasks because the world has been designed to privilege certain bodies means that often the differently abled are at the mercy of their caregivers, reducing their ability to act independently. Dependency, meanwhile, often leads to situations of abuse which rarely receive media or police attention, because the victim is either unable to advocate on their own behalf or has been purposefully blocked from taking action.
According to CHBC news, Nyle Nagy is a resident of Brookhaven care home in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Due to Multiple Sclerosis, Nagy has full body paralysis. To manage his MS, Nagy smokes medical marijuana. The home in which he resides has determined that such behaviour is inappropriate, though treatment was prescribed by a licensed Canadian doctor. In their effort to control his behaviour, they seized his medication and his motorized wheelchair.
“She sent two men over here to take my wheelchair and tell me that I’ve got to stay in this chair for seven days, as a punishment”, Nagy told the TV crew. “To get rid of my pain and my spasms, that’s the only two reasons I smoke it” said Nagy, who has a license from the Canadian government to smoke marijuana.
Brookhaven declined to comment on the situation so far, except to say that Nagy was under a doctor’s care.
Nagy’s condition leaves him vulnerable to abuse by those that are charged with ensuring that he has a decent standard of living. He is not a child to be grounded and Brookhaven is purposefully infantilizing him, all because they disagree with the medical decision that he made in conjunction with his doctor.
The currently able bodied among us are able to enforce their will by refusing to acknowledge privilege or through failing to offer accommodations. Without his wheelchair, Nagy is unable act independently and therefore he is a prisoner in the home that was meant to support him. It is cruel and unusual punishment, and even prisoners in isolation are allowed time outside of their cells on a daily basis. Nagy speculates that the enforced bed rest will lead to bed sores because of an inability to tend to his personal hygiene needs. No one should be forced to lie in their own excrement or urine and yet Nagy is being threatened with this. He hasn’t even committed any crime.
Short of shackling a currently abled resident to a bed, Brookhaven would not have been able to inflict the same sort of cruelty to someone who doesn’t use a wheelchair. A currently abled patient may be forced to refrain from accessing certain rooms in the facility, but complete immobilization would not have been so easily possible. Nagy is being punished for believing that he had the right to determine his medical treatment while living in a body that Brookhaven and much of society has come to view as dysfunctional and less than.
What is extremely problematic is that Nagy is only understood as dysfunctional because of the environment in which he and every other differently abled person live in. Under the right circumstances, most people that are considered disabled can and would be highly functional members of society. It is the barriers that create the disability and not the body in and of itself. Clearly, Nagy is able to make decisions that are within his own best interest, as well as speak on his own behalf, as television interviews have shown. Why not listen to what he has to say?
It is important to note that medical marijuana is legal in Canada. The Marijuana Medical Access Regulations came into force on July 30, 2001. Medical marijuana is used to treat spinal cord injury, spinal cord disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, sever forms of arthritis, MS and epilepsy. Illnesses not mentioned on the aforementioned list are covered, if it can be proven that the pain is debilitating and that conventional treatments have been attempted and have failed. To obtain a license to possess dried medical marijuana, applicants must provide a declaration from a licensed physician. Above all else, being able to make an informed decision in ones medical care is an essential right of healthcare.
Had Nagy been an able bodied man, his so-called carers would not have been able to restrict his movement. Their behaviour illustrates that those not living with the condition in question are not necessarily in the best position to be able to determine what the best coping mechanisms may be. Even an empathetic able bodied person can never fully understand what it is to deal with a body that is understood as dysfunctional, while negotiating an ableist world.
Marijuana is very much a stigmatized drug because it has been labelled a gateway drug. Those that actively fight addiction through criminalization believe that the use of marijuana leads to the use of stronger drugs, as addicts search for a drug that gives them a greater high. Nagy has claimed that Brookhaven has refused to accept that there is a distinction between marijuana and cocaine.
Yet there is a difference between using marijuana to manage a health condition and using banned substances for personal pleasure. Despite the solid medical evidence that marijuana can be used to alleviate seizures, nausea, and aid in sleeping because of the fact that it is criminalized, alongside drugs like heroin, many fail to understand that it has very different properties. Unlike with heroin, you cannot overdose on marijuana.
It is fair to point out that drug addiction has many social costs. An addict is no longer a productive member of society and drugs are responsible for the breakup of many families. Children that grow up in homes were the parents are drug addicts often experience neglect and malnutrition, because addicts are often more willing to spend money on drugs than food. There is also a link between drug addiction and domestic violence.
Nagy, however, does not fit the medical model for addiction. The terrible abuse inflicted upon him highlights just how vulnerable the differently abled are in Canada. The mistreatment that he has suffered as a resident of Brookhaven confirms the various ways in which a failure to provide accommodations for the differently abled can amount to disaster. After all, what does it say about what bodies matter in Canadian society, when a person convicted of rape or murder will have more physical freedom that Nagy during his week of punishment?
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