Having autism. Having a disability. So? Be indifferent. And you will cure cancer!

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“I don’t look like I have a disability, do I?” Jonas Moore asks me. I shake my head. No, I say — he does not. Bundled up in a puffy green coat in a drafty Starbucks, Moore, 35 and sandy-haired, doesn’t stand out in the crowd seeking refuge from the Wisconsin cold. His handshake is firm and his blue eyes meet mine as we talk. He comes across as intelligent and thoughtful, if perhaps a bit reserved. His disability — autism — is invisible.

That’s part of the problem, says Moore. Like most people with autism spectrum disorders, he finds relationships challenging. In the past, he has been quick to anger and has had what he calls “meltdowns”. Those who don’t know he has autism can easily misinterpret his actions. “People think that when I do misbehave I’m somehow intentionally trying to be a jerk”, Moore says. “That’s just not the case”.

His difficulty managing emotions has gotten him into some trouble, and he’s had a hard time holding onto jobs — an outcome he might have avoided, he says, if his coworkers and bosses had better understood his intentions. (1)

Should we treat people with disabilities differently?

Sure we should help them. But what is the best way to do that?

And if they need help because they have a problem, what constitutes a “problem”? Do we know? Is it that they cannot do certain things the way we do them? Is the majority defining the “norm” which we all want people to adhere to?

People with autism have different brains than “normal” people do. So? Should we treat them specially? Or should people with autism treat US specially? Most people have problems in their relationships with other people. Should we treat them all as people with disabilities? Or only the “people with disabilities” deserve being treated as such? Is the result of a disease the cause for special treatment or simply the result, no matter what the cause is?

We are all born as we are born.

We all have special abilities and inherent limitations.

Which ones are critical so as to be tagged as “disabled”?

In a society, the answer can only be one: The ones which are defined by the majority. But should we trust majority? Should we listen to it? Is majority the best way to determine “healthy” and “sick”? If the majority is sick, could it be that we are feeling sorry about people who are actually healthy?

But no one can live together with a child with autism without having too much patience in order to deal with him. Sure. But the same applies the other way around too: The child cannot live with you as well.

No, this is not a philosophical “trick” void of any meaning.

This is life. As it is.

Without any “majority filters” applied…

Midwifery. Witch hunts. Men’s prejudice. Medicine & dogmatism.

The first clear evidence of clinical benefit from hand hygiene came from Semmelweis, working in the Great Hospital in Vienna in the 1840s. The hospital had two obstetric departments, and women were admitted alternately, whatever their clinical condition, to one or the other. In the first, they were attended by medical students who moved straight from the necropsy room to the delivery suite. In the second, they were attended by midwives and midwifery students who had no contact with the necropsy room. The incidence of maternal death was as high as 18% in the first department, with puerperal fever the main cause, but only 2% in the second. Semmelweis observed that a colleague died from an illness similar to puerperal fever after being accidentally cut during a necropsy. He concluded that the infecting particles responsible for puerperal fever came from cadavers and were transmitted by hand to women attended by medical students in the first department. He therefore instituted hand disinfection with chlorinated lime for those leaving the necropsy room, after which maternal morbidity in the first department fell to the levels achieved by the second department. (1, 2)

Semmelweis’ discovery directly confronted with the beliefs of science and medicine in his time. His colleagues and other medical professionals refused to accept his findings mainly because they did not find it convincing that they could be responsible for spreading infections. The reaction reflected on his job as well when he was declined a reappointment in 1849.

The continued criticism and lash out finally broke him down. By 1865, he was suffering from depression, forgetfulness and other neural complaints and was eventually committed to an asylum. He only lasted there for two weeks and died on August 13, 1865 at the age of 47. (3)

Most sites reproducing the case of hand-washing and doctors bad attitude towards it simply emphasize the fact that doctors in the abovementioned clinic used to perform autopsies and then go treat pregnant women, while midwives in the other clinic did not. Although this was indeed the main case (see the original paper here), there is much more to see. Things you can find if you look deeper. Things not immediately evident from reading Wikipedia scientism-biased articles.

The first important teaching from this story is the way doctors treated advice towards them by someone outside the mainstream “cast”. They could not accept the fact that they were the cause of death. They could not accept that they even had dirty hands (!) (4, 5, 6) (“gentlemen do not have dirty hands”)

The second important thing to note is the way normal people (midwives) used to have more wisdom than the scientists. To complete the story in the beginning of the article, except the obvious difference between doctors and midwives (that the latter did not perform autopsies) there was another one which was the truly important one: that midwives tended to wash hands more often that doctors. This was something noted by the renowned Lister (7, 8). Researches on the matter show that midwives did have good hygiene practices (9 – see for example Midwifery Act 1902), (something one could see showcased by the “mysterious” fact of the World Health Organization celebrating “Washing hands” – see here – and the ICM celebrating International Midwife Day – see here – on the same date).

It is interesting to note that in the early 20th century rich women were more likely to die in childbirth than poor women. (Mary Wollstonecraft was one victim of an incompetent doctor; she died of puerperal fever after delivering a daughter who would grow up to write Frankenstein.) For almost any other cause of death, the poor were more likely to die than the rich. But for childbirth, poor women could afford only midwives. Rich women could afford doctors. (11)

After we (men) chased down women healers as witches (12) (yes, the ability to HEAL was one of the charges against witches!) we now have men ruling obstetrics. And even though home births are AS SAFE AS hospital births (13), the man-midwife (doctors) replaced the “bad witches” (14, 15).

Everything is good now.

Now we can all afford doctors or – even if we can’t  – must see one or simply die.

Now we dogmatically “know” that we know better and that the old ones were useless humanoids simply lucky to be alive.

Sure medicine has learnt its lesson. Sure it saves lives now. (Does it? See here)

But how many lives has it killed so far due to its dogmatism? How many more lives can be saved if the “all lightly” doctors listen to the popular wisdom of “ordinary” people like the midwives – even today?

Dogmatism can be truly deadly. Even before birth…

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