On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) read a letter from former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) imploring Senate Republicans to ratify a United Nations treaty affirming equal rights for disabled individuals. Dole, who was hospitalized on Tuesday, was a World War II veteran who suffered lasting disabilities after his service.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Monday that he plans to bring the treaty up for a vote in the Senate — but, despite widespread support for the measure, Republicans seem bent on killing it again this time around after blocking Democrats’ last attempt to ratify the treaty in August.
Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is leading the charge against the treaty. Santorum, whose daughter was born with a rare genetic disorder, takes issue with protections that allow the state to separate a child from a parent if “such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child,” such as in cases of emotional or physical abuse. At a press conference with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Santorum called this “a direct assault on us and our family.” He expanded on that point in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan on Monday night:
It’s the convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities, which sounds like a wonderful thing. But the problem is there’s a provision in this international law which we would be adopting if the Senate ratifies this that puts the state, the state in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child. And as the — as the father of a little girl who, if you look up the medical definition of her condition, says it’s incompatible with life, I hesitate to think what those in government and in charge would think that — how our daughter should be treated and what medical treatment should be available to her if her diagnosis is — it’s incompatible with life.
And so this would be something unprecedented in American law to give the state the ultimate authority as to what is in the best interest of your child. Historically the United States has been clear. Parents, unless they’re unfit for some reason, get that decision. This would change under this convention, and that’s why Karen and I stood forward today and along with Mike Lee from Utah, and said we have to oppose this.
The treaty, which bans discrimination against people with disabilities, was originally signed in 2006 under George W. Bush’s administration and re-signed in 2009 by President Obama. More than 150 nations have signed it and 126 have already ratified it, and it is backed by a range of disabilities and veterans groups as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The specific article that Santorum is concerned about actually ensures that disabled children are not separated from parents against their will or on the basis of their disability or a parent’s disability. Only in cases where a judge determines a child is being abused or neglected would a separation be allowed. This is more or less identical to the U.S.’ current policy, which Santorum himself acknowledges.
In fact, as Dana Milbank points out, the treaty requires other nations to model their laws on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which already forbids discrimination based on disability.
The ADA ensures that Santorum’s daughter, Bella, cannot be blocked from going to school or from receiving the medical treatment and accommodations she needs. In opposing the treaty, Santorum is actually opposing those same protections for other disabled people all around the world.