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Some Thoughts on the ADA

There was a thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal today written by Joni Eareckson Tada, who happens to be quadriplegic.  She was commenting on a recent “wrongful birth” case and efforts by some legislatures to legalize euthanasia of people with disabilities.  I think the following paragraph summarizes her thoughts:

This winter, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disability. We need to make up our minds. We cannot logically on the one hand widen a definition of disability to include an unlimited number of conditions in order to legislate protection, and then on the other hand claim that it is morally permissible to prevent those with a disability from being born or to assist in killing them once they are here.

I do not agree with her that the Americans with Disabilities Act is inconsistent with wrongful birth litigation or assisted suicide laws, but I agree with her that we need to make up our minds about the ADA.  We seem to be headed for “an unlimited number of conditions” that trigger ADA protection, and that diminishes the intent and purpose of the ADA.

I think it is wrong to fire a person because she wears red, follows a Paleo-inspired diet, watches Downton Abbey, or roots for the Dallas Cowboys.  But do we really need to expand civil rights laws to prohibit clothing, diet, television, or NFL discrimination?  The ADA now covers conditions that I have, but there is no way I consider myself a person with a disability.  Why should I be able to sue my employer for disability discrimination if my firm fires me for spending too much time running and working out at the gym?  I am only trying to keep my weight, blood pressure, and stress under control.

We should be debating whether the ADA has become more of a weapon for lawyers than a benefit for persons with true disabilities that do not prevent them from doing their jobs.  It is a separate debate whether tort lawyers should be allowed to sue doctors for failing to conduct tests that might encourage a woman to have an abortion, and where our collective morality should take us when deciding if a disabled person, for arguably good reasons, wants to die.

One thing Ms. Tada’s opinion piece does illustrate is that emotion is a powerful force in the law.  Emotion should not, however, cause us to make incorrect decisions when enacting legislation.  Too bad that emotion often trumps logic and good sense.

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