On defective babies, defective choices by Marie Benoit

On October 1995, the Daily Mail ran a pair of articles on the same day jointly entitled “Should Melanie destroy her twins?” Columnist Polly Toynbee, said yes. No, said Dominic Lawson, then editor of The Spectator, whose wife had given birth to a Down’s syndrome child. Melanie and her husband, columnist Brian Astbury had conceived Siamese twins. The Astburys said no to abortion. “Our babies will be born out of love and into love. Everything else rests with fate and the surgeon’s skills.’“ The twins were born prematurely and joined from the breastbone to the navel. There was heartbreak of course for both children could not live as Siamese twins.

They were, operated and seemed to be doing well However, in the end the twins died.

Anyone who has seen the film The Elephant Man will never forget the moving portrayal of John Merrick, played so sensitively by John Hurt. It is the true story of a man in Victorian England who became known as the Elephant Man because of his terrible deformities.

Merrick was discovered in a circus freak show by Dr Frederick Treves, a surgeon at London Hospital. Dr Treves also a lecturer in anatomy, initially took a professional interest in Merrick’s grotesquely enlarged skull, abnormal curvature of the spine, and the elephant-like fibrous growth which covered 90 percent of his body. Treves’ professional interest soon developed into a warm and compassionate friendship with this very special individual.

Merrick had been abandoned by his mother ‘who had the face of an angel’

‘I must have been a great disappointment for her. If only I could find her so she could see me with such lovely friends as I now have. Perhaps she could love me as l am. I’ve tried so hard to be good.’ says Merrick at one point. Merrick had yet to convince others that his life was worth living.  As if in response to their characterization of him as a worthless freak of nature Merrick cries out: ‘I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being!’ Merrick cannot be cured of his ailments but

Dr. Treves tells him: ‘We can care for you!’ Resigned to his fate, Merrick reassures the physician and friend: ‘l am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know that I am loved.’

The Elephant Man gently but resoundingly rebukes society which has come to accept the so-called eugenic abortions of deformed foetuses, and in some cases even the death of new-borns found to be handicapped.

His is the story of we so poorly misjudge the quality of human life – how we judge people by their package. His is the story of how we make such indefensible moral choices. For it’s not how we decide in individual cases whether life is ‘worth living’, but it is the very fact that we presume to make such a decision about people which strips us of our own humanity.

The argument that women must have the right to choose an abortion because they might be faced with a deformed foetus is morally bankrupt because it wrongly assumes that the handicapped are not worthy of living.

Although genetic testing has its positive side and leads to the diagnosis of diseases that cause pain disability and death, technology is rapidly becoming available to produce designer babies. There will always be parents who out of ego or some perverse view of children as a perfect product, want to pick and choose genes according to a master plan. Should society encourage that or even allow it?

The problem, of course, is the prenatal test. Abortion naturally follows as what is seen as to be a benign, humanitarian test. It is the test that women are now taking for granted.

They have the test in order to determine whether to paint the nursery pink or blue, or in the alternative, whether to kill the child, who, but for the test, would have slept in nursery.  Can that make any sense at all? The natural concern of parents that a much-wanted child should be healthy has been translated into killing children who are not healthy.

When death is the foregone conclusion for those foetuses who don’t measure up, how can we possibly say that we have benefited from the test – apart from allaying anxiety of expectant parents with healthy foetuses?

Moreover the test, like everything else, are subject to human error. How many babies have been aborted following an erroneously interpreted result?

In years past, families did not discover the child’s disability until she or he was born. Nor was there disappointment accompanied by medical possibility of ending that life before birth. But now the option made available to the family are soul –wrenching.

It’s all well and good that those of us who have never been in their shoes can see a silver lining to the dark cloud of disability, but for the family the dark cloud remains.

In light of the obvious burden to the parents, we must ask ourselves we are being when we argue for abortion on the basis of the child’s suffering, if he or she is allowed to live.

Honesty would compel the parents to admit that it is their hardship that they wish to avoid. And while no one would blame them for wanting to avoid that hardship, we are entitled to ask whether the killing of an unborn child can be justified fairly on that basis.

If there are parents of handicapped children who possibly say to themselves, ‘I wish that my child had never been born, they are not alone. There are parents of dangerous criminals, drug addicts and merely insolent or disrespectful children who would join me in that chorus.

But rarely will you ever hear the disabled themselves telling us that they wish they had never been born. Family hardship simply cannot outweigh the sanctity of human life itself. What is needed is a

society that offers the family of a disabled child the financial support and round-the-clock assistance with care. Can any parental hardship justify the killing of an innocent human being?

No matter our religious beliefs, the idea of saving the weakest is fundamental to the moral order of society.

And now the anonymous Pro-Choice Malta is calling lawmakers to give women the right to choose to have an abortion even when the child is healthy. Of course abortion has been going on in our country for ages. I recall interviewing Fr. Charles Vella, then of the Cana Movement, for The Sunday Times of Malta in the early seventies about abortion in Malta. Women who want an abortion have been going abroad for ages. But if we legislate, we will open the gates of hell and make abortion easier.

It is heartening to know the the President of Malta told a delegation of Pro-Life advocates that her government would never legalise abortion and as president she would never sign such legislation.

Virtually every piece of abortion legislation throughout the Western world permits termination of a pregnancy where the life of the mother is threatened. The principle is based on the choice of the evil between two possible victims, both of whom are innocent.  In such a case, the life of the mother with her already existing relationships, and possibly other children to take care of – prevails over the nascent life of the unborn. So clear is the principle that virtually no pro-life advocate would dispute it. On this point, pro-choice and pro-life advocates are in agreement.

Yet pro-choice advocates attempt to capitalise on this one obvious exception in order to justify abortion for any cause. But cases when a choice has to be made between the life of the mother or the life of the baby are a rare exception perhaps no more than one-tenth of one percent of all abortions. Even when a mother’s life is threatened, the baby can typically be delivered sufficiently early to avoid fatal consequences to either the child or the mother.

Abortion attacks the very weakest, whether they are disabled or not. Those whom Matthew’s Gospel called ‘The least of these.’ Our business is not to eliminate them for whatever reason. We have to make sure that abortion is not legalised in Malta. Abortion is murder.






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