Friday, March 18, 2016

Shaming the Wise

I received the sad news, yesterday morning, of Leilani Marietta (O'Malley) Muir passing away on March 12th. I don’t pay too much attention to the news, so I received this news a couple of days late from a Facebook friend in the United States. Leilani was a fellow Albertan, a human rights advocate, and was around the same age as my parents. She was also institutionalized at the age of 11 at what was called the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives, later known as the Michener Centre, in the city my parents first met. This is one of many such institutions known for eugenic practices, such as involuntary sterilization, of which Leilani was a victim.

Why was this champion of human rights sterilized? Two years after being institutionalized, she was “diagnosed” as a “moron” and the Eugenics Board approved her sterilization. It was not until after she was married that she found out what they actually did to her. They had told her she was having her appendix removed.

Some may be surprised that the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta wasn’t repealed until 1972, but many may be wondering how a person could be diagnosed as a moron. What is a moron?


While the word moron is now commonly used as an insult, when Leilani was 13 years old, it was a psychiatric term used to denote level of intelligence. These levels were as follows:
  • Idiot (IQ of 0–25)
  • Imbecile (IQ of 26–50)
  • Moron (IQ of 51–70)

It was Henry H. Goddard, a prominent American psychologist and eugenicist, who created this scale, from which he borrowed from the Latin and Greek languages. The word moron comes from the Greek word μωρός (moros) and is defined as “foolish” or “stupid.”

Another word that comes from Greek is the word psychiatrist, which is made up of the words ψυχή (psyche) and ἰατρός (iatros) and is literally translated as “physician of the soul” or “physician of souls.” The more ancient from ἰητὴρ ψυχῆς was used in reference to Plato. A few centuries later, the form Ο Ἰατρός τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν, commonly translated as “The Physician of our souls,” was used for Jesus Christ and a representative of Him was referred to as ἰατρός τῶν ψυχῶν, translated as “physician of souls.”

What would Jesus Christ, The Psychiatrist, say about someone, particularly someone using a title that suggests he or she represents Him, say about diagnosing someone as a moron? “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ [Μωρέ (Morie), ‘You moron’] shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Saint Paul, a psychiatrist in the 1st century, said: “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to the flesh, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish [μωρὰ (mora), ‘moronic’] in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)

Of course, Saint Paul also said that real psychiatrists like himself were “fools [μωροὶ (moroi), ‘morons’] for Christ’s sake” in 1 Corinthians 4:10.

Thank you Leilani, for shaming the wise.

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