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May 9, 2013

Question:  What are society’s obligations to the mentally disabled?

The phrase “mentally disabled” refers to a wide range of mental and emotional disabilities that include those who remain functional, as well as those who are severely mentally disabled. Regardless of the level of mental disability, all those who bear the heavy burden of mental or emotional disability should be the recipients of the best care that medical science and social services can offer. This ideal is difficult to achieve in the midst of budgetary crises and cut-backs, and overburdened and functionally impaired social agencies in which too many people fall though the cracks.

Religious scripture of all traditions has counselled believers to have due regard for the less-fortunate and downtrodden. We are warned that they are not to be considered as objects of fear and disdain, hidden away for shame, as they once were. The spiritual virtues of compassion and loving-kindness require that those who are severely mentally handicapped have their bodily and emotional needs met through well-trained, loving and responsible care-givers. The families of the mentally disabled will surely do what they can, but the particular needs of the severely mentally disabled will require specially trained personnel.      

We do well to remember that the dignity of the human being is determined by the fact that each of us has a soul, a divine, noble, immortal, mysterious creation of God that is intrinsic to each and every human being, regardless of  mental functionality or physical appearance. The existence of the soul determines our dignity and humanity. Although the powers of the soul may be obscured in those who suffer from severe mental disability, much as a dark cloud will temporarily obscure the sun, the soul of the mentally disabled person remains sound and intact.  Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, has revealed: “Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments.” Let us keep this truth in mind when ministering to the mentally disabled.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 9, 2013
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