No life is useless or meaningless. Disabled people – whatever their degree of handicap – can never be vegetables. They remain fellow-human beings. Although the disabled would generally prefer to have been able-bodied, this is not the same thing as saying that they would prefer to be dead or would be ‘better off dead’.
We cannot judge for other people that their life is not worth living. How we respond to other people’s disabilities is largely a measure of how we view human life. We must treat others with love and compassion, helping them to live with their disabilities, not destroying them because we feel we cannot cope with their handicap. We could easily afford the best for disabled people, if — as a society, we wanted to.
This prolife message (above) was written with the foot by a woman who was ‘allowed to live’. 1
The Disabled Have Their Own Contribution to Make
A disabled person, like anyone else, should be allowed to lead as full and happy a life as circumstances permit. No one is physically or mentally perfect. In a sense, we are all disabled but we try to do the best we can.
Material success and physical well-being, as many discover, do not guarantee fulfilment or contentment. It is not external things which always count most. The disabled may not be able to do all that ‘able-bodied’ people do, but they can often do many things that others cannot. And their courage, their often astonishing skills, their capacity for enjoying life, frequently put the so-called able-bodied to shame.
Disabled people have a special role in society. They can make the world a better place – if the ‘normal’ people will let them. They can open doors for everyone. Think how many artists, poets, scientists, politicians and just ordinary people have suffered serious disabilities – and triumphed over them, to the benefit of all. Today, many of them would have been killed before birth.
Disabilities, as commonly understood, brings problems and challenges, of course. But perhaps the worst disability one can have, is to think he is more “worthy” of life than those who he chooses to call ‘abnormal’ or ‘defective’. More audacious still, is when this person wants them weeded out before birth in our hospitals and abortion clinics.
Nick Vujicic (pictured above), who was born with no legs and arms, shares his hopes and dreams, and strong belief in a personal loving God. 2
Abuse of Pre-Birth Screening is Bad Medicine
Over recent years there has been an increase in prenatal screening, for detecting abnormalities in the unborn baby. Whilst there are a variety of different techniques used, the following three examples highlight some of the concerns associated with each.
This involves pushing a long needle into the womb to extract some fluid from the amniotic sac. It is done at twelve to eighteen weeks, and is most commonly used to detect Down’s syndrome and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. There are conflicting reports about its safety, but when it is done, there is a miscarriage risk of between 1 and 2 percent (including normal babies), some increase in heavy bleeding in pregnancy, and some risk of infection. The tests attempt to give women the reassurance they are seeking – that their babies are not suffering from a chromosomal abnormality or neural tube defect.
However, amniocentesis is not a completely accurate test. Around one per cent of chromosome results and 10 per cent of alphafetoprotein (AFP) results are incorrect – which means every week many healthy babies are aborted. Amniocentesis: this is when a sample amniotic fluid is taken from the sac around the baby and then tested.
This technique allows the detailed examination of the internal and external structure of the unborn child from outside the mother’s body. By bouncing high frequency sound-waves off the baby, not only can the bones be seen, but the heart, stomach, kidneys and other organs of the body can be examined as well. The more developed the baby, the more detailed information gained. And if the child is detected with an abnormality, the mother has the option of an abortion. However, once again, as high operator expertise is required, errors are also made with the ultrasound.
This is used where ultrasound scanning does not give enough detail, particularly of the nature or extent of the abnormality. By allowing direct observation of an unborn in the uterus, foetoscopy can identify small, discrete abnormalities of, for example, the palate, the ear or genitalia. It can also be used to take a foetal skin biopsy, or foetal blood sample, for the purpose of identifying genetic disorders, such as sickle-cell anaemia, haemophilia, and beta-thalassemia.
Foetoscopy allows the prenatal diagnosis of at least fifty congenital abnormalities. It is claimed that the risks of the technique is small, although putting an instrument into the amniotic sac and taking skin and blood samples must always carry a degree of risk of spontaneous abortion, bleeding, infection or damage to the baby.
‘Search and destroy’
All of these scanning techniques, and others, have an element of a ‘search and destroy mission’, because their primary purpose is being used to identify the abnormal unborn baby so that he or she can be killed. Certainly there is a possibility that the disease or abnormality could be treated within the womb, for example a blood transfusion for rhesus incompatibility or even, in one rare case, spina bifida (see picture below). Also, knowledge of a severe abnormality could allow the obstetrician and paediatrician to be more prepared to help when the baby is born. But, apart from these rare positive uses of the techniques to identify abnormal factors, there is no reason to use them unless an abortion is a real possibility.
This picture was taken in 2002 of a 21 week old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armus who is being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Burner. The baby was diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother’s womb.
As Dr Bruner completed the surgery on little Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr Bruner said it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant he was just frozen, totally immobile, as if little Samuel was saying, “Thanks for the gift of life.”
The photo was taken by Michael Clancy. It is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Visit Michael’s website HERE . Used with permission.
It should be also pointed out that even where abnormality has been correctly diagnosed in the womb, there is no way of assessing the degree until the child is born. Time might also reveal that the abnormality was only very slight and even able to be corrected by post-natal surgery. Sadly, mothers are being pressured into agreeing in advance to abortion if screening reveals abnormality. Is this liberation? What about the mother who has to live the rest of the life knowing that she consented to her child being killed – who might not have been handicapped at all, or only slightly?
What about the mother who refuses abortion? In our current climate, she may be perceived as being irresponsible, and even selfish. If we kill unborn children with spina bifida and Down’s Syndrome we remove an incentive to develop positive treatment, including inter-uterine and neo-natal surgery. We have to ask, “What other complaints are treated by killing the patient?”
No place for eugenics in a humane society
No one pretends that disability is easy to cope with. It requires courage and generosity, as do so many worthwhile things. Aborting those with abnormalities may masquerade as humanitarian, but it abuses our compassion towards suffering and fosters a fear of deformity – particularly when much progress has made in removing the stigma and guilt feelings attached to disability.
In Australia, we now have government bodies, such as the Disabilities Support & Services, Equal Opportunity Commission, and other organisations which provide special protection and support to the disabled. The disabled can access Guide dogs; specially-converted vehicles, wheel chairs and computers – offering undreamt- of independence. We also provide ramps on pavements, seats on buses, specially-designed toilets, and so on. It is evident, then, that we believe it important and right to care about those who are born with a disability and provide them with a “fair deal”.
Yet, there is a glaring contradiction in our society’s attitude. On the one hand, we try to accept, help and treat, the disabled as equals. But ironically it is a different matter when the disabled are unborn and in the womb. Here, we have no hesitation in using modern science to search them out and kill them. Surely, this is not extending true compassion toward our fellow human beings.
1 Winter R: Choose Life Marshall Pickering, 1988, p83
2 No Legs, No Hands & No Worries… A Living Inspiration!!
Suggested reading: Melinda Tankard-Reist: Defiant Birth: Women who resist medical eugenics, Spinifex Press, 2006
Wikipedia Bio on Nick Vujicic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Vujicic
Suggested viewing: Nick Vujicic talks about how he changed from a man with no arms and no legs