by Marianne M. Jennings, a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 8/28/96 and was received from The Political Digest on 8/28/96
The real tragedy in Christopher Reeve's speech to the delegates at the Democratic convention on Monday night was not witnessing the magnitude of his disabilities. Mr. Reeve possesses the character and strength to conquer whatever lies ahead. The tragedy is that Mr. Reeve believes the Democrats can help him. My husband and I have the privilege of raising a child with problems more extensive than Mr. Reeve's. Our Claire has never walked nor spoken. She has no discernible voluntary movements. Claire will turn 10 in January, but the experts place her level of development at three months. Fighting in the disability trenches--as I have for nearly a decade--you learn quickly who talks a good game and who delivers. To a cheering audience, Mr. Reeve cited the progress the Americans with Disabilities Act has made in both "architecture and attitudes." The elated crowd in the United Center somehow forgot that the ADA was conceived and signed into law during the Bush administration. Mr. Reeve does not want to see programs for the disabled "slashed." Just two years ago Hillary Clinton, who looked at Mr. Reeve with admiration during his remarks Monday night, offered a comprehensive health care plan that would have reduced or eliminated benefits for those with chronic conditions. In testimony before Congress, a deputy assistant secretary of health and human services admitted that Mrs. Clinton's plan was "not designed as a chronic care benefit." Physical therapy would have been limited to 60 days. And not even Superman could have made it through an appeal of a benefits denial under the Clinton health plan. As Bob Dole showed us at the time, the Clinton plan would have created a thicket of 33 new federal agencies. Mr. Reeve urged increased research to eliminate disabilities. Yet surely he knows that experimental treatments and drugs would not have been covered under Mrs. Clinton's plan. And research does not receive unanimous support among Democrats. Animal-rights activists in the audience must have cringed at Mr. Reeve's suggestion, because progress in spinal-cord research means more animal testing. But Mr. Reeve's research agenda meets its greatest obstacle among the trial lawyers. Progress in medicine is always slow when innovators are busy defending lawsuits. Should Mr. Reeve ever need a shunt, I wish him luck trying to locate one of these life-giving devices. Shunts are made of silicone. So were breast implants. Thanks to the trial lawyers, few companies this side of Chapter 11 will sell anything made of silicone for human implantation. To respond to Mr. Reeve's plea for progress, the delegates and their candidates have a choice. They can retrieve shunts from corpses or return their donations from the trial lawyers, one of the country's richest and most pro-Democratic political action committees. Finally, Mr. Reeve urged the delegates to increase programs for the disabled. If you want a program, call a Democrat. If you want results, bring in the Republicans. Over the years I have experienced difficulty obtaining benefits and services for my daughter because of bureaucratic mazes choking under their own weight. It was a Republican governor who stepped in to help us and then went on to streamline those systems. And President Reagan unilaterally changed the Democratic-created requirement that you had to run out of money before becoming eligible for Medicaid. Mr. Reagan expanded the availability of assistance by making degree of disability, not just income, a standard for eligibility. As I watched Mr. Reeve speak softly and in rhythm with his respirator, I had great admiration. But I also felt outrage. How dare the Democrats use Mr. Reeve as a political pawn! How dare they portray themselves as champions of the disabled! Those who have masterfully engineered the obstacles were touting someone who has never run the course. Mr. Reeve has been disabled for just over a year. His wealth places him slightly above the fray; he even has a private therapy room. But if he hits the trenches with us, he'll soon realize that he's got the wrong party.