Things did not begin well for Jeison. Born 34 years ago in Cali, Colombia, to a working-class family of seven, there was a complication during his birth. For a time, his brain didn’t receive enough oxygen.
Jeison was left disabled, born with cerebral palsy. His doctor said that he would not ‘be good for anything’ of true value. He would ‘only be good for cleaning shoes’.
Jeison knew this wasn’t true, and so did his family. His mother taught him to persevere and never give up. She knew that his disability did not need to keep him down, even in the face of daunting obstacles. He was mocked at school and endured countless surgeries, but pushed ahead. He has earned university degrees in social communication and law.
For Jeison and others like him, it is understandable to wonder, ‘Why me?’ But his ‘Why me?’ turned into ‘For what?’ Life is filled with purpose, not devoid of meaning. Jeison knows this. ‘I learned to ride the bicycle with many difficulties. But God had a plan, and it was that with the bicycle I began to visit children with disabilities like the one I have, and I began to help them,’ Jeison says.
According to Jeison, the medical care for people with disabilities like cerebral palsy in Colombia is very poor. Sometimes, children are left to a bed-ridden existence. Growing up, he knew of a boy who had been left to this fate. He simply lived in his bedroom. ‘They literally left him in the last room of the house. So his story moved me and mobilized me,’ he relates. Jeison posted a request for a wheelchair in a local newspaper. Soon the boy had a wheelchair. The reality that children with disabilities in Colombia were neglected became clear to Jeison after this experience.
Thankfully, today the average life expectancy for a Colombia child with a disability has risen from 10-14 years to 30 years.
But laws that legalize euthanasia in Colombia, which some politicians and activists are pushing, will challenge that. Though unstated, those who live with disabilities are often the first targets of legalized euthanasia. ‘[I]t’s the culture of seeing human beings as serving for something or not serving for anything,’ Jason says.
To some, the disabled have no reason to live—they have no inherent dignity. In Jeison’s words, they’re seen as ‘disposable’.
It’s a vicious cycle. The country is poor, the health system is poor, and soon children and adults with disabilities are not seen for their humanity, but as medical costs alone. ‘[W]hen they call them “high cost patients,” that means they are being valued in financial terms only, and that is a reality in Colombia, it is totally financial. Basically, here the health system sentences the person to death in order to save a lot of money in medical treatments,’ Jeison claims.
To Jeison, this is indicative of a society that thinks only of itself, is not sensitive to the concerns of others, and does not consider the consequences of its dehumanization of certain groups of people.
While not advanced in healthcare, Colombia is advanced in its euthanasia policies, alongside the Netherlands and Belgium. And life’s most vulnerable are the easiest to eliminate.
Jeison knows that this cannot be sanitized – it’s tragic. It must be fought, and to do that he implores those crafting this legislation and advancing these laws to step outside of themselves and consider what the world could be missing. ‘We arrive with a purpose in life and it is what has been missing, the recognition that we can learn so much from others, regardless of the medical condition,’ he says.
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 70 years ago, states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Legalized euthanasia undermines the universal right to life.
In the end, our society will be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. The UDHR says that no matter your state in life—whether you are aging, depressed, disabled, poor, or any other condition—you have the right to life. Your right to life should not be undermined, or determined, by your government. Jeison and others like him are just as human as you are. If we as a society determine that they have no purpose in living, we will not only dismantle their right to life. Our world will also miss out on the blessings they bring to humankind.
Will you join us?
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, ADF International reaffirms the fundamental understanding that human rights are based on the inherent dignity of each person.
Join us in the promotion and protection of your fundamental freedoms today.
Add your voice by signing The Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org