In 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver published an article in the Saturday Evening Post, lamenting the fate of her eldest sister, Rosemary. Born in 1918, “Rosemary,” as Eunice wrote simply, “was mentally retarded.” The Kennedys had the means and the love to care for her at home, refusing to send her to an institution, as so many families did with such children. But an attempt to improve her condition through a lobotomy failed, and an institution is where Rosemary ended up. Eunice wrote,
It fills me with sadness to think this change might not have been necessary if we had known then what we know today — that 75 to 85% of the retarded are capable of becoming useful citizens with the help of special education and rehabilitation. Another 10 to 20% can learn to make small contributions, not involving book learning, such as mowing a lawn or washing dishes. Only 5% — the most severely retarded cases — must remain completely dependent all their lives.
If only Rosemary had been born forty years later, Eunice thought, things would have been different for her. This led Shriver to devote her life to such children and their families. She lobbied her brother, the President, to pour $120 million into research. The family foundation donated millions to care centers and medical facilities. As a Senator, her brother Robert successfully prodded Governor Rockefeller to improve (at least for a time) the horrid conditions at state mental institutions in New York. And most of all, she started the Special Olympics out of her own backyard.
It was about providing these children with an education, a sense of purpose, accomplishment and a full life. She helped create a world where these kids were not judged by their “economic potential,” though ironically, her brothers often turned to Eunice when looking for workers to help around their Senate offices. Bobby once noted the mentally challenged young man at the Kennedy Foundation who worked the Xerox machine — even fixed it when it broke down, “which is something none of the psychologists in the office can do.”
The triumph of inclusion: that is the woman’s greatest legacy — one she would insist be shared with her eldest sister.
So the idea that mentally challenged children would be murdered by the American government is not only ludicrous, it is a disgusting insult to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. And yet Sarah Palin repeated that vile lie for a third time today, the day Eunice was laid to rest.
Palin’s own child’s life has so much more potential for no other reason than that he was born ninety years after Rosemary, who had a sister and family that cared so much. That Palin would show so much disrespect to this lovely woman by lying about the legislation her brother Ted has fought so hard for… it is beneath contempt.
“I am lucky that I saw my mother and my sister Rosemary treated with unbearable rejection…. The combination of the love of my family and the awful sting of rejection helped me to develop the confidence that I needed to believe that I could make a difference in a positive direction,” Eunice said in 2007. “I think I can say that not one author among the thousands who have written about [President Kennedy] has understood what it was really like to be a brother of a person with intellectual disability. And tonight, I want to say what I have never said before: more than any one single individual, Rosemary made the difference.”
We now live in a country in which casting out the mentally disabled will not be tolerated. That was not the case when Eunice and Rosemary Kennedy were girls. Sarah Palin ought to be ashamed of herself for suggesting what she did, today of all days.
John R. Bohrer
The Huffington Post