Activist demands a say for disabled people

AN ADULT VIEWPOINT
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The Independent Online
Glynn Vernon, 51, is seething after four days of debate and a television telephone poll revealing 80 per cent of viewers think parents should be allowed to decide whether severely handicapped children live or die.

The views of disabled people have featured little if at all, Mr Vernon, who has cerebral palsy, said. "Isn't it interesting that disabled people are hardly ever asked to comment on this issue? ... Yet this whole debate questions my right to exist."

Mr Vernon knows what it is to be written off early. When he was a toddler his mother Jessie, now 81, and his miner father Fred, now 82, were advised to put their son in an institution, forget him and get on with producing more "normal" children. Doctors said young Glynn, who could not walk or talk and suffered from fits, was mentally retarded and would remain that way.

Mr Vernon's parents went on to have more children but rejected medical advice that he had no hope of improvement. They fought hard for their son who remained a part of the family. "We didn't go anywhere Glynn couldn't go," remembers Jessie. He rewarded them with A-level success and later an Open University degree. Today he is vice-chairman of Scope, the charity for cerebral palsy sufferers.

His facilitator, Martin, translates his speech for those unaccustomed to it, but Mr Vernon defies those who would use this to denigrate his quality of life. "I have had a very interesting and fulfilling life. I've done not too badly for someone dismissed as useless at four."

He argues that medical prognosis of children's conditions are notoriously unreliable and predictions about their chances frequently wrong. "Even doctors admit they know little about the brain and what is possible," he said.

He warns against a change in the law which would "allow" disabled children to die. He scents a whiff of Nazi Germany where only the physically and mentally perfect were deemed good enough to survive.

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