This is not about a new discovery in genetics or treatment. In fact it has nothing to do with scientific research at all. This will happen by the action of the United States Congress, if the bill being marked up in committee is approved as is predicted. Here's the article that describes it, from The Hill.
I would doubt that there are many here who would oppose sparing any child, or any adult, from mean spirited insults of others. And we feel that most strongly for those who are most vulnerable, those who have the most debilitating conditions. Yet, there is a cost to this attempt to simply abolish any word that has become a vehicle for such cruelty.
The use of euphemisms, words that soften a harsh reality, is something that I am a great fan of. This is why I preferred to be referred to as a "vital mature person with passionately expressed ideas", rather than an "old opinionated blowhard."
Let me give a little history of the phrase "mental retardation" which this committee wants to banish. My first exposure to this subject was my introductory psychology course in 1958. The textbook taught the students the accepted terminology, the three descriptors that universally accepted in that era, that I will pick up from the Wikipedia Article (an excellent source of this discussion which I will reference again)
Idiot indicated the greatest degree of intellectual disability, where the mental age is two years or less, and the person cannot guard himself or herself against common physical dangers. The term was gradually replaced by the term profound mental retardation.
Imbecile indicated an intellectual disability less extreme than idiocy and not necessarily inherited. It is now usually subdivided into two categories, known as severe mental retardation and moderate mental retardation.
Moron was defined by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded in 1910, following work by Henry H. Goddard, as the term for an adult with a mental age between eight and twelve; mild mental retardation is now the term for this condition. Alternative definitions of these terms based on IQ were also used. This group was known in UK law from 1911 to 1959/60 as "feeble-minded".
"Mental Retardation" was the replacement for these terms, meant to do exactly what the new term is expected to do. Actually, what is rarely discussed is that the replacement term, the one that Congress is considering mandating in all laws and regulations, including existing ones, is not simply a new word, but a different categorization of etiologies of various causations.
Once again as well described in the Wikipedia article:
The term "mental retardation" is a diagnostic term denoting the group of disconnected categories of mental functioning such as "idiot", "imbecile", and "moron" derived from early IQ tests, which acquired pejorative connotations in popular discourse.
The term "mental retardation" acquired pejorative and shameful connotations over the last few decades due to the use of "retarded" as an insult. This may have contributed to its replacement with euphemisms such as "mentally challenged" or "intellectual disability".
* In North America mental retardation is subsumed into the broader term developmental disability, which also includes epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders that develop during the developmental period (birth to age 18.)
Because service provision is tied to the designation developmental disability, it is used by many parents, direct support professionals, and physicians. In the United States, however, in school-based settings, the more specific term mental retardation is still typically used, and is one of 13 categories of disability under which children may be identified for special education services under Public Law 108-446.
* The phrase intellectual disability is increasingly being used as a synonym for people with significantly below-average cognitive ability. These terms are sometimes used as a means of separating general intellectual limitations from specific, limited deficits as well as indicating that it is not an emotional or psychological disability.
So, while the bill being contemplated assumes that the two phrases are synonymous, they are not.
Intellectual Disability may also used to describe the outcome of traumatic brain injury or lead poisoning or dementing conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. It is not specific to congenital disorders such as Down syndrome.
Alzheimer's Disease, the symptoms of which are now being described as Senile Dementia, was not included under "mental retardation" but is in "intellectual disability." Rubrics, or categories, evolve based on the science and the Zeitgeist of the culture. They organize thinking, laws and emotional responses to various objects.
I'm an atheist. I sometimes call myself a "secularist" to defray confrontation, but I'm actually an atheist, a-theist, one without a belief in God. The word is accurate, although it, for most Americans, is also pejorative.
Those afflicted with mental retardation are those who have either a congenital or genetic condition that inhibits intellectual attainment. These conditions have little to do with the study of those who lose mental capacity due to a stroke, senility or trauma, and should not be aggregated based on a desire to lessen emotional pain. Especially, since history shows that those with the desire to inflict such insults will do so under the new terminology.
PC, or political correctness, while seen as beneficent, has other aspects. It can cause confusion and obfuscation, and at times be absurd. Once pejorative usage is accepted as justification for changes in terminology we have opened the door to actually debasing our language, sacrificing historical context and precision in this futile attempt.
"Capitalist Pig" has a nasty tone to it. One way to stop such insults is to simply not use the word "Capitalism" to describe the economic system, to eliminate it from the educational material of children. "Free Enterprise Pig" doesn't have the same sting does it? Well, this is the justification for the Texas State School Board for eliminating that nasty word "Capitalism" from all course material.
I would love to see mental retardation, along with all developmental diseases eliminated from the world, but this is not the way to do it. And if we are going to talk about "mental disability" lets save the term for the most widespread cause of it, the decline of intellectual activity, of stimulating productive discussion of the issue of the day, which only can occur when we have a common set of words to discuss them.
"Mental Retardation" is defined as such by Merriam-Websters
: subaverage intellectual ability equivalent to or less than an IQ of 70 that is accompanied by significant deficits in abilities (as in communication or self-care) necessary for independent daily functioning, is present from birth or infancy, and is manifested especially by delayed or abnormal development, by learning difficulties, and by problems in social adjustment