Monday, November 18, 2013

My Reaction to the Article "The Preventable Death of Ethan Saylor" by Stephen Greenspan, Ph.D.

Here is the link so you can read it for yourself.

It has been shared many times since it came out last week.  I've seen it on national Down syndrome groups pages and on some friends', as well.  All I can wonder is:  why?  Are we so starved for press in the I/D community that we will cling to any scrap that blows our way?

Let me take a step back.  I am glad that the horrific, tragic, TOTALLY PREVENTABLE death of Ethan Saylor is getting more and more press.  I am glad it has not gone away.  I am glad that others have taken some of the pressure off his family for getting their story told; but this?  This is more victim blaming and there has been plenty of that, already.  It is a clinical summation made up of sketchy details and inferences.  

The reference to Ethan's IQ makes me want to climb through cyber space and throttle this guy.  Who cares what his IQ was?  For one thing, IQ tests for people with Down syndrome are not terribly accurate, especially when the tests were done years ago.  And even if 40 IS an accurate IQ, who cares? Seriously?  Is there in IQ threshold for watching movies?  If so, what is it?  Is no other measure taken into consideration?  

"I would have thought such a movie beyond the comprehension level of someone with Ethan’s IQ level, but presumably he enjoyed the non-stop nature of the action."  says Dr. Greenspan.   

Again, seriously?  Dr. Greenspan, with his many, many years of research and writing about intellectual disability should know very well that typically, a person with Down syndrome's receptive intelligence is much, much stronger than their ability to demonstrate their knowledge.  So, just because Ethan would not necessarily be able to talk at great length about what it was he found so fascinating about the movie, he did enjoy it and he would have been able to discuss it on some level if events had not unfolded the way they had.  Truthfully, none of that matters.  It's none of the doctor's business why Ethan saw that particular movie.  

Dr. Greenspan also writes about Ethan's weight being a factor in his death. This is pure nonsense.  Anyone who has a crushed larynx will die from it without immediate medical attention; period.  You cannot breathe when your airway is blocked, whatever your weight.  

Dr.  Greenspan blames Ethan for lashing out at the police officers.  These officers WERE NOT IN UNIFORM!  If they had been, maybe things would have been different.  The officers were moonlighting as security guards.  How was Ethan to know that they were really cops?  He was trying to get more money, via his phone, for another ticket.  In Ethan's mind, he was complying with the request that he purchase another ticket.  Whether that was logical or not, is beside the point.  In the few minutes the officers and management could have waited, without harming Ethan, his mom would have arrived, he could have had a new ticket, or he could have left.  They refused to give him the opportunity to make the situation right.  I find that indefensible.  

Even without all of that, even if the officers were uniformed and Ethan was hitting and kicking (which I have not read that he was), what does it imply?  That feeling threatened (with good reason, apparently) is a crime punishable by death?  I know, I know, they didn't MEAN to kill him; but they did.

"Whatever the tolerance level that police departments have for using potentially deadly force (and apparently the tolerance level is fairly high in the Frederick County Sherrif’s department), one would like to think that are other departments and officers, including within the Frederick department, who would view the behavior of the three officers in this case as unprofessional. It was unprofessional because police officers, along with other professionals (such as therapists), are paid to accept a certain amount of abuse without responding in kind. They are also being paid to recognize when a subject is in an unstable state, and to practice responses intended to calm rather than inflame. Unfortunately, neither of those hallmarks of professionalism were demonstrated in this case."  (emphasis mine).

I definitely think he has a point there.

The last part of the article gets to the heart of the matter, but doesn't tell us HOW to change things.  We certainly need the how.

 If there is any lesson to be learned from this tragic case, it is that the first instinct of first responders, as well as direct care staff, when dealing with immature behavior exhibited by brain-impaired people like Ethan Saylor, is tolerance combined with gentle insistence involving negotiation, both done in a spirit of love and attempt to understand the individual and help him or her to regain self-control.

On the last point, the doctor and I agree, but until we, as a society, have a better level of tolerance towards different communication styles, appearances and abilities, things like this will continue to occur.  We blame IQ, or cognition, when really what is to blame is prejudice and intolerance for difference.  How do we change minds when it comes to those with intellectual differences?  When will this population be recognized as having equal rights under the law, when time and time again, we are shown that the rules are applied differently when you have a disability as seen here and here?    

I realize that some will see this post as trying to have it both ways.  Maybe I am, but I don't think so.  I don't think it is wrong to suggest that waiting a few extra seconds before you decide to "subdue" someone when you SEE they have an obvious disability is unfair to the "typical" population.  I think it is compassionate.  

I am sure that Dr. Greenspan means well.  I'm just not sure that his post has helped the cause of getting justice for Ethan.


  1. I am hoping the NDSC will share this equally in all their communications. We need respectful dialogue, but we need dialogue. Thanks for the start!

    1. I'm sick of waiting for the nationals to take a stand. They don't. They just DON'T. It's up to individuals to be heard as best they can. Thanks for commenting, Rachel!