07 January 2007

War on disabled heats up

This unsettling development highlights a conspicuous tension in the current mindset of the larger society:

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada will recommend next month that all expectant mothers undergo screening for fetal abnormalities such as Down's syndrome — not just those over the age of 35, as is the practice.

One of the aims of this measure is to test for Down's Syndrome in unborn infants to allow expectant parents a choice whether or not to abort. The National Post article on the subject quotes Dr. André Lalonde, executive vice president of the society, as follows:

"Yes, it's going to lead to more termination [of pregnancy], but it's going to be fair to these women who are 24 who say, 'How come I have to raise an infant with Down's syndrome, whereas my cousin who was 35 didn't have to?'" Dr. Lalonde said. "We have to be fair to give women a choice."

Lalonde would do well to unpack his concept of fairness for the rest of us who may not be inclined to follow his reasoning. A child is not a consumer item with a manufacturer's guarantee attached, as most parents intuitively understand. Pandering to such an immature notion of fairness can only confirm some people in the belief that quality of life — understood as a lack of hardship or even inconvenience — trumps life itself.

Prof. Joseph Boyle, an ethicist at the University of Toronto, is pro-life but admits that, if the Society's recommendation is implemented, even prospective parents opposed to abortion could be seduced into acting against their own convictions:

"From the point of view of a lot of people, even people who are pretty stoutly resolved not to get abortions, it might be pretty tempting," he said. "And, of course, you don't put yourself into temptation's way without a very good reason. My wife and I are long past having to deal with an issue like that, but I don't know what we'd do."

As for the tension mentioned above, some would have us suppress any awareness of the distinction between normal and abnormal by urging the use of such euphemisms as "differently abled", "mentally challenged" and the like. At the same time, much of the medical profession would have us rid ourselves of such persons before they reach the birth canal, thereby tacitly identifying such "differences" as, if not abnormalities, at least inconveniences that we cannot reasonably expect others to bear.

Yet living the good life does not consist in minimizing hardship and maximizing comfort. To live well means to take up the ordinary and extraordinary challenges that everyone encounters sooner or later and to act responsibly in the face of these. It means to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8), recognizing that the blessings of this life are not rights to be grasped tenaciously for our own purposes, but gifts of God's grace to be enjoyed and shared with others. Furthermore, as many of us know from hard experience, even our adversities can become blessings, both to us and to others, as we try to live in ways manifesting this grace through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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