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"A Life Like Yours" On The Dignity of the Disabled and the Call to Save Them From Abortion

October 5, 2010

I spent the afternoon today taking part in a “webinar” focused on providing support, Church teaching and information to families who receive a pre-natal diagnosis that their child will be disabled in some way. Perhaps they are informed that the child will have Down Syndrome, or perhaps a birth defect that will lead either to early death, or to a lifetime of challenges.

The pressure on such families to abort is often enormous. They are told, “It is the right thing to do” and, “You should not make the child suffer.” Some are even made to feel they are doing something “unethical” by bringing forth such children. There are also time pressures placed on such parents. Doctors often want the decision to terminate, made quickly, within a matter of days.

A life not worth living? There seems to be operative a notion on the part of many in our culture  that there is such a thing as a life not worth living. We have stumbled upon the very unusual and tragically ironic concept that death is a form of therapy, that the “treatment” for disabled babies is to kill them. Of course death is not a treatment or a therapy, it cannot be considered a “solution” for the one who loses their life. Yet tragically this is often the advice that many parents with a poor pre-natal diagnosis receive, the urgent pressure that they terminate the pregnancy now.

90 % are lost – All this pressure goes a long way to explain that just over 90% of families with a poor pre-natal diagnosis choose to abort. We in the Church cannot remain silent in the face of this. We must prophetically and compassionately reach out to families in such a crisis. Many of them are devastated by the news that their baby may have serious disabilities. Often they descend into shock and are overwhelmed by fear, conflicting feelings and even anger at God or others. Sometimes the greatest gifts we can give them are time,  information, and the framework of faith. Simply considering some of the following may help:

1. They do not have to rush, despite what they are told. Serious life-changing decisions should never have to be made in a 48 to 72 hour time period. Pressure should never be applied to families by medical personnel and the family should consider such pressure a grave injustice.

2. Pre-natal diagnoses are not always right. We often think of Medicine as an exact science. It is not.  Data can be misinterpreted and premises can sometimes be wrong. Further, there is a difference between the result of a screening and an actual diagnosis. Screenings can point to potential problems and likelihoods, but are not an actual diagnosis of a problem. Further study is always needed if a screening indicates potential problems. Quite frequently, further tests, after a screening reveal no problem at all.

3. Disabilities are not always as terrible a reality as we, in our “perfect-insistent” world, think. Many people with disabilities live very full lives and are a tremendous gift to their families, the Church and the world. Providing families with further information about disabilities and connecting them with families who have experience in these areas are essential to avoid the catastrophizing that sometimes sets in when an adverse pre-natal diagnosis is given.

4. For those with faith it is essential to connect them with the most basic truths of our Christian faith. The cross is an absurdity to the world. But to those of the Christian faith, the cross brings life and blessings, even despite its pain. Where it not for our crosses, most of us could never be saved. Bringing forth a disabled child will not be easy but God never fails. He can make a way out of no way and do anything, but fail. My own sister was mentally ill and she carried a cross. We too had a share in that cross. But my sister, Mary Anne, brought blessings to our family as well. I don’t know if I’d be a priest today if it were not for her. I am sure I would not be as compassionate and I doubt I could be saved were it not for the important lessons she taught me. I know she brought out strength and mercy, not to mention humility, from all of us in the family. Her cross and ours brought grace, strength and many personal gifts to all of us. Yes, the cross is painful, but it brings life as well. Easter Sunday is not possible without Good Friday. To the world the cross is absurdity but to us who believe it is salvation, it is life, it is our only real hope, it is our truest glory to carry it as Christ did.

5. Disability is not an all-or-nothing thing. Disability exists on a continuum. In some way all of us are disabled. Some of us have very serious weight problems, others diabetes, pressure, heart problems, etc. Some of us are intellectually challenged in certain areas. Some of us struggle with anxiety or depression, addictions, or compulsions. Some experience losses in mobility through an accident or just due to age. All of us have abilities and disabilities. Some of our disabilities are more visible than others, some disabilities are more serious than others. But in most cases we are able to adjust to what disables us and still live reasonably full lives. We may not be able to do all we would like, but life still has blessings for us. And even our weaknesses and disabilities can, and do, bring us blessings by helping to keep us humble. How much disability is too much? Can you really be the judge of that? Can you or I really decide for someone else that their life is not worth living?

6. Life is not usually what it seems. In this world we esteem things like wealth, ability, strength and power. But God is not all that impressed by these sorts of things. God has a special place for the poor and the humble. The Lord has said that many who are last in this life are going to be first in the next (cf Mat 19:30). There is a great reversal coming wherein the mighty are cast down and the lowly are raised up. In this world we may look upon those who suffer disability with a misplaced pity. But understand this: they are going to be the exalted ones in the kingdom of heaven. As we accept the disabled and the needy into our midst we are accepting those who will be the royalty in heaven. We ought to learn to look up to them, beg their prayers and only hope that their coattails may also help us attain to some of the glory they will specially enjoy. They have a dignity that this world may refuse to see but we who believe cannot fail to remember that the last are going to be the first. Life is not always what it seems.

What of those who aborted? We as a Church cannot avoid our responsibility to prophetically declare the dignity and worth of the disabled. More than ever our world needs the Church’s testimony,  for it is a startling statistic that 90% of parents choose to abort in cases of a poor pre-natal diagnosis. Even as we prophetically witness to dignity of the disabled and the wrongness of abortion in these cases we must also embrace those who have chosen abortion and now struggle with that choice. We are called to reconcile and bring healing to all who have faced this crisis and fallen. Many were pressured, afraid and felt alone. We offer this embrace through confession, and healing ministries like Project Rachael which offers counseling, spiritual direction, support groups and prayer services. Even as the Church is prophetic in speaking against abortion she must also reconcile those who have fallen under the weight of these heavy issues.

For more information:

  1. National Catholic Partnership on Disability
  2. Project Rachel – Post Abortion Healing
  3. Be Not Afraid – an online outreach to parents who have received a poor or difficult prenatal diagnosis
  4. Parental Partners for Life – Support information & encouragement for carrying to term with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and support for raising your child with special needs after birth

This video was produced by the Office of Special Needs and the Life Issues Department for the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, held at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC on January 22, 2010. It shares the story of Maddie, who reminds us of the dignity and joy that can be found in every human life

Filed in: Culture, Moral Life • Tags: , ,

Comments (18)

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  1. Nod says:

    Thank you, Father! This is a timely message that more people need to hear. At one time I thought the world was ending when my son was born with Down Syndrome – now I know so much better. In many ways he will be much more “fulfilled” than I can ever be. Included is a link to that story and how God changed my own heart.

  2. Vijaya says:

    I have just finished a draft of a young-adult book that I am now revising that addresses exactly this … about every life worth living. It is based on our family history, which is far richer for the so-called “damaged” people in it than without. I hope to convince our young people of it via story. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. John says:

    Wonderful blog post. This follows the teaching of the church and the values of The Arc of the United States. Since the genetic test began for Down Syndrome–about 90% of women chose abortion. These people have a right to live a “life like yours.” Thank you father for writing this needed blog.

  4. Theresa says:

    Thank you, Father! This article and video are WONDERFUL!

  5. Patricia Cornell says:

    Nod: I would like to chat with you on your own email…is that possible. Patricia in St. Louis, MO patriciaicon@gmail.com

  6. Terence Filmore says:

    Is it fantasy to imagine a world some years from now in which science can tell prospective parents about the mental and emotional state of their (as yet unborn) children. Is it fantasy to imagine parents choosing to abort a child that is determined to be dull, or arrogant, or introverted, or emotionally needy? Is it fantasy to imagine (wealthy) parents engineering ‘the perfect’ child – and aborting all those that come before it? I think not.

    Our Lord must weep at what we have done – reduced children to a commodity.

  7. Michele says:

    Thank you for this, Father! In my ministry work I work a lot with people with disabilities. They have so much to give our Church and our world, and it is so important to recognize their dignity and the fact that God does have a purpose for each of them. Thank you so much for articulating this so well!

  8. Sherry says:

    As a mother of a son with Down Syndrome, I can tell you he gives more than he takes, he laughs more than he cries and he breaks down the barriers that some of my other children might have made into walls because of his soft and gentle nature. As a special educator before I ever became a mom, I can tell you that no matter how disabled, and I’ve worked with multi-handicapped non-verbal non-ambulatory teens, they take joy in the same things their non disabled peers do, good music, good food, good company, humor, being cool, being clean, swimming, dancing, bowling, flirting, being out in the world, feeling the air, smelling flowers or cake or cologne, getting their pictures taken and being treated as the people of infinite worth that all of us are.

  9. David Ferguson says:

    Amen.

  10. Another supporter says:

    I share Sherry’s experience with a Down Syndrome child. People who abort them will never know what they and the child have missed.

    When we heard that our newborn had Down Syndrome, a nurse who, like us, had more than one child and one with Down Syndrome, came to talk to us. She proudly showed pictures and filled us in on how well all of her children were doing. And then she said something very beautiful: “When people ask how taking care of this one is different from the rest, I say, ‘Maybe I get to keep this one!'”

  11. Dayna Chandler says:

    We have tried to adopt a child with Down syndrome and for every baby that becomes available there are 30 or more families vying to adopt that child.Most of them are like us……we already have a biological child with Down syndrome and we have discovered what a precious gift they are and we want more! Luke is our joy boy!
    Women who are considering terminating their pregnancy after getting a diagnosis of Ds or any other birth defect need to know that it is not the end of the world but just the beginning of a new wonderful one! And if in the end they decide they can’t parent the child there are so many parents out there that would be glad to adopt their baby. Please visit my website for more enlightening info http://www.alifeworthliving.us Blessings!

  12. esiul says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope, I haven’t written in a while because I have to be stirred up. You always stir me up but when it comes to your writing today I get really fired up. I wish everyone out there could read this. It’s this trust in God that is missing in the issues of disabilities. If you don’t trust in Him, you won’t be able to cope with what life has dealt you. This trust is something that should be instilled by the parents in their children, so that if and when situations like you mention arise the trust is deep within.
    Great job Msgr. and thank you.

  13. Paul says:

    It is marvellous to come across the writings on this website. Also pleased to hear the story of the nurse who said “maybe I get to keep this one”. Wonderful people in the world. Thank you from half a world away.

  14. Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    Animals kill their disabled young! Are we no better than they? Why are we not? The word humane is a relative of human, but sometimes it seems that they are opposites! I have bipolar depression and some say that my mother should have aborted me had she known; but even I have made a contribution to the world:

    http://mysite.verizon.net/vzezunbp/

    My years in the hospital were not a waste of time and money. In fact, the wisdom I learned from the Lord all this time can be found at that website. Take a look and see what a disabled person can do. And I am by far not an unusual case, because some of my brothers and sister with disabilities have done greater things…

  15. kim brunner says:

    As a mom of 6 children,4 of whom have some form of disability, thank you for posting this blog. My children are truly a blessing and God-glorifying.

  16. Rev. Thomas Extejt says:

    You often write excellent articles; this is one of your very best. I’m including a condensed version of it in next Sunday’s bulletin (appropriately footnoted). I asked some of our local MDs for their suggestions in writing on this topic. One addition I’m making came from a psychiatrist who is a member of this parish. She asks: “What are we doing as a church to provide the physical, emotional and financial needs of caregivers? What are we doing to make sure that disabled people in our parish being provided the sacraments and religious education?”

  17. Midwest Girl says:

    Best prolife story I’ve ever heard, as told to me by the grandmother: One of her daughters has two sons, one “normal” and one that is mentally handicapped named John.

    At our parish, students preparing for Confirmation must pick a patron saint. The grandmother asked which saint her grandson was to choose. He said John. Since there are numerous St. Johns, she asked her grandson which one. He looked at his brother John, and said, “That one.”

  18. Randy Engel, Director, IFGR/MF says:

    Dear Friend of The Michael Fund and Fellow Defender of Life,

    The medical community is out to make Down syndrome children extinct. And they are succeeding!

    And they’ve devised a “test” that is little more than a death warrant.

    To help, click here right now!

    I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.
    –Matthew 25:40

    It’s important that you do this immediately because elitists within the medical profession are pushing a new early prenatal non-invasive screening test that allows doctors to determine if a woman is “at risk” of having a child with Down syndrome.

    If the test comes back positive, the woman is urged to undergo further diagnostic procedures to determine if she is carrying an affected child. And if those tests indicate that she is, the parents are advised to abort and kill that innocent, loving child.

    We’re in a race to save Down syndrome children. And we desperately need your help to win that race.

    Thanks to you and friends like you – including many parents who have chosen life for their child with Downs and in doing so have made the world a better and happier place to live – we’ve made great strides in advancing our life-saving research work. Click here: one of the babies we have been working with.

    What I’m relying on you to do today – and moving forward into next year and beyond – is to continue providing The Michael Fund with the dollars that will allow us to conduct the clinical trials that will accurately measure the therapeutic effects of various treatments on Down syndrome children in the womb.

    These clinical trials are vital to our effort to save Down syndrome children because they can convincingly demonstrate the effectiveness of a new therapy, and justify its use. Without such trials, any new treatment would be subject to challenge, criticism or even punishment.

    But as you can imagine, these trials are both difficult to perform and expensive to conduct.

    I’m not going to take up your valuable time explaining all the intricate details of our research program, but I will tell you that when it’s completed we will dramatically improve the outcome of births involving not only children with Down syndrome, but all children.

    Best of all …

    … you will have played a major role in making that
    happen!

    And here’s something else you need to know.

    Based on the incredible strides he’s made over the past 18 years, Dr. Paddy Jim Baggot – The Michael Fund’s Director of Research – is now convinced that what seemed impossible thirty years ago is not merely possible today … but probable!

    It is his unbridled confidence in what we’re on the path of accomplishing here at The Michael Fund that gives me the courage to ask you to click here and make a much-needed contribution that will allow Dr. Baggot to proceed with the clinical trials that will help save the lives of Down syndrome babies.

    Click here to see one of the babies we have been working with.
    Here’s the breakdown of financial gifts that we need:

    $8,333 for one full month of testing
    $2,083 for a week
    $298 for one day
    $149 for half a day
    $25 for two hours

    And since virtually everyone here at The Michael Fund is a volunteer, your tax-deductible donations go directly to our research.

    As you consider how to help today, please keep this in mind:

    The world has turned its back on these beautiful lives. These innocent children, whose capacity for love far surpasses that of someone without Down’s, have been labeled worse than useless: they have been labeled burdensome.

    By clicking here and supporting our research efforts here at The Michael Fund you are helping us win the race against those in the medical community who want to make Down syndrome children extinct.

    In a very real sense, you are following the example of Joseph and Mary when they did whatever it took to defend the Infant Jesus from King Herod.

    Like them, you are doing all you can to defend Down syndrome children – today’s Holy Innocents – from the King Herods who rule our modern world.

    Thank you for giving of yourself to come to their aid. Click here to see one of the babies we’ve been working with.

    May God bless you for your generosity; not only now at this holy season of Christmas, but throughout the coming year.

    Sincerely yours in the Infant Jesus,
    Randy Engel, Executive Director
    The Michael Fund