Archive for Monday, February 14, 2011


Everyday Life: The least of our brethren

February 14, 2011


In 1998 the Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, writing in opposition to abortion, wrote: “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” Our governor, Sam Brownback, also opposes abortion, essentially on Cardinal Mahony’s grounds.

Assuming that the born are at least as worthy as the unborn, the question becomes: why, then, did he propose closing the Kansas Neurological Institute?

KNI is home to the weakest members of our society, people with, as they say, multiple challenges. Everyone living at KNI has serious cognitive deficits. Many can’t walk. Many can’t feed themselves. Many can’t toilet themselves. Some can’t roll over in bed. Some injure themselves. Some are capable of hurting others. Some are fed through tubes. Others need breathing tubes. Some are severely spastic, their limbs contorted. Some have severe and multiple seizures. All need skilled care, 24 hours of every day, 365 days a year.

No family can do this on its own. Local agencies aren’t always enough. What kind of services do you think a place like Chase County, population approximately 3,100 spread over 778 square miles, can support? KNI cares for people others can’t. In its group homes clustered on its Topeka campus, residents receive stimulation, social contact and, for those who are ambulatory, a little freedom on its protected campus. Residents of KNI are cared for by skilled people who truly care about those who depend on them.

Closing KNI will not save one dime. But, hey, maybe the private sector will take over and save the state money. If you think that, think again.

Because we’ve been here before, with mental illness. In the 1970s we closed or greatly shrunk a whole bunch of mental institutions and moved to small group homes. In itself not a bad idea, but accompanied by a really bad idea: funding cuts. Because, you know, the private sector was supposed to step in. And then there were prospective neighbors who didn’t want crazy people living near them. So here we are, having given up our communal commitment to care for folks with mental illness, many of whom fall right through the cracks onto the sidewalk where they hope they can find a doorway to sleep in.

I fear that we are moving in that direction if we close KNI. That we’ll fund just enough to pretend we’ve taken care of things, but that for many desperate families it will be like the old days, with severely handicapped members kept in a corner, fed, cleaned up and not much else. That we will once again have turned our backs, figuring it’s not our business.

This is not a political issue. It is not a budget issue. It is a moral issue, an ethical issue. As Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of my brethren, you have done it to me.” The question is: What are we doing, and what does that say about who we are?

— Judy Roitman can be reached at


Ken Lassman 7 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for this poignant reminder of our social obligation to be our brother's keeper, especially if that brother or sister is completely dependent on us for their well-being and perhaps their very survival. Folks need to contact their legislators about this politically expedient , economically driven but morally overly simplistic strategy that the Brownback administration is trying to pull on the citizens of Kansas.

earline james 7 years, 4 months ago

I could not agree more! I've heard that the love of money is the root of all evil. It's like that age old struggle between Christianity and Capitolism (profit, Caeser, whatever). A sad version of that seems to be playing out in Topeka. If the Democrates believe in compassion, then the Republicans ... care only about themselves? (I got mine?) (I want it all?)
Discuss amongst yourselves.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 4 months ago

Personally, I don't see this as a Democrat or Republican issue--it's an ethical issue, like Judy said in her piece.

eaglar 7 years, 4 months ago

Actually, I think it is a Progressive vs Conservative issue... Progressives see the role of government as empowering and protecting everyone equally. Conservatives don't believe in social responsibilty or that government should help people. They only believe in individualism. As George Lakoff wrote on his blog today, "Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life." This scares the bejeezus out of me.

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