Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be continuing with my mini-series that discusses ableist tropes in books and media! It’s been a while since I made a post like this, so I hope you’re still all interested. Last time I spoke about The Disabled Villain, so now we’re moving onto the Miracle Cure trope. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s still a hugely common trope in fiction, so it’s time to explore what’s so bad about it.
What is the miracle cure trope?
I’m calling this trope the ‘miracle cure’, but it can come in a few different forms. Essentially what I mean is, in the course of the book or series, a disabled person is cured of their disability. This is a more common trope in fantasy and sci-fi because there’s the idea of a cure coming from magic or technology. It’s less common in contemporary books because the reality is that the vast majority of disabilities do not have a cure. What non-disabled people often don’t understand is that curing disability is ableist, and a lot of disabled activists state that people don’t need or want to be cured.
Why is this trope ableist?
The miracle cure is based on the idea that disabled people are inferior, are unable to live fulfilling lives, and the only positive outcome of their existence is if they are cured. Disabled activism hasn’t got as large a reach as other forms of activism, and I truly believe that’s because people still think disabled people have something wrong with them. This might be a pessimistic viewpoint, but the miracle cure reinforces it. If you would consider curing someone of their sexuality or gender horrifying, then you should find this trope horrifying too.
A lot of disabled people don’t think their disability can be separated from them as a person. It is part of their identity. Who would I be if you took an intrinsic part of myself away? Disability impacts so much, from personality to the people you surround yourself with, the way you interact with the world, your morals, your dreams. You can’t just take that away.
I want to point out here that there are a lot of difficulties associated with being disabled, but as with every social issue, the answer is not to destroy us. What would actually be helpful to a disabled person? Perhaps it’s pain relief that works, something to help with fatigue, having an accessible world where disability doesn’t put them at a disadvantage, technology such as wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, back support, oxygen machines, etc. There are ways to make life easier and happier for disabled characters and disabled people without relying on a cure
Eugenics has always been used against disabled people. The idea of making us infertile so we can’t pass on our genes, preventing us from having relationships, the threat of taking our families away from us if we dare to have them. All of these techniques are historically, and continuously, used. The miracle cure is just another facet of this, but now instead of preventing us from having children, they can erase us while we’re still alive.
Is it only in speculative fiction?
As I said previously, this trope is mainly found in speculative fiction. The reality is most disabilities can’t be cured, so a book set in the real world shouldn’t feature the miracle cure trope. However, I’ve read contemporary books that feature cures for disability. I’d say this type of miracle cure is even more potentially harmful. At least with speculative fiction, you could say it is based on fiction. When a book is set in the real world, it gives people the idea that disability can be cured. Disabled children are particularly at risk of facing these potential cures: one such example is autistic children being fed bleach by their parents to cure them from being vaccinated. Disabled people around the world are suffering because non-disabled people are focused on curing us instead of listening to us about what we need.
I am especially concerned with this tropes prevalence in KidLit. How are disabled kids supposed to accept themselves if society says the only happy ending they could have is if they are cured? Why do books refuse to let disabled people be disabled and happy?
Can a discussion of cures ever be okay?
Most of the time, I say that context is everything, and there will nearly always be a context where a trope isn’t harmful. I’d also say with this specific trope that would be difficult. Perhaps if a disabled person was purposefully doing a satire of the miracle cure?
The problem with the miracle cure is it is inherently based upon the ableist view that disabled people need to be cured, that there is something wrong with us, and that we would be better if we were not disabled. You can’t spin that into something respectful.
I said earlier that you can discuss making life and wellbeing easier, but that doesn’t require a specific cure. You describe ways of managing pain, fatigue, communication, mobility, etc. without the end goal being to cure someone completely of their impairments. Of course, that requires listening to what disabled people need, rather than what non-disabled people think they need.
Examples of the Miracle Cure trope
- The characters go on a quest to find a magical item that will cure someone of disability
- The characters find an excellent healer who cures someone of a disability
- The character is given a pharmaceutical cure for their disability
- The character is shown to work really hard and their disability is cured
- The character goes through experimental treatments and their disability is cured
- The character goes through real life treatments that do not cure disability and their disability is cured
- The character is given magic that cures their disability
- A god gifts the character with their disability being cured
- + so many more