Web Site: Abortion Best Choice, Child with a Disability “Not a Blessing”

Opinion   |   Nancy Flanders   |   Sep 25, 2012   |   8:20PM   |   Washington, DC

If I somehow (metaphysics be damned!) had a choice to be born in a body that would slowly disintegrate on me, like that of Stephen Hawking, or not to be born at all, I’d pick the latter.

These words, so cautiously crafted by writer Sierra, include the very word that both builds and destroys her main point: choice. Throughout her post, “Disability, Prenatal Testing and the Case for a Moral, Compassionate Abortion,” Sierra argues continuously that while she supports people with disabilities, she feels that abortion can be and often is the best “choice” when an unborn human is diagnosed with a genetic condition or disability. However, the reasons why she believes this are empty.

The Chooser

According to Sierra, if Hawking were “hanging out in the metaphysical waiting room before descending to earth, and he told me he didn’t want to be born into all that suffering, it would be unfathomably selfish of me to demand that he endure what he has endured just so that I (and other healthful people) could benefit from his mind.”

While this statement seems on the surface to be one of compassion, it fails to make Sierra’s point. In reality, if Hawking had been aborted, it wouldn’t have been his choice; it would have been his mother’s, his father’s, or a doctor’s decision. And none of them would have taken Hawking’s opinion or potential abilities into account. All they would have seen were the unforeseeable struggles and sufferings, as well as their own natural fear of the unknown overshadowing the amazing life that was and is only Hawking’s to live in the first place. The choice to abort the person with a disability never belongs to that person. It is always under the control of someone else.

In addition, Sierra lumps herself in with “other healthful people,” claiming that no one who is healthy has any right to tell a person who has a disability that his or her life is worth living. However, it is the “healthful” people who have a responsibility to help ensure that everyone, especial those unable to speak for themselves, is treated as an equal. And being treated as an equal starts with being allowed to be born in the first place.

Deciding Which Disability is Too Hard to Live With

Sierra focuses a great deal on Down syndrome, which is natural when discussing abortion because statistics show that about 9 out of 10 humans with Down syndrome die through abortion. Yet it turns out that Sierra thinks relatively highly of those with Down syndrome in comparison to what she thinks about those with cystic fibrosis. She writes:

[…] when did we go from talking about the relative independence of some Downs individuals to the horrible suffering inflicted by cystic fibrosis? Would you utter a sentence like this?: I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with cystic fibrosis in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. Would you tell parents how ‘rewarding’ it is to raise a child with cystic fibrosis?

Yes and yes. I am the parent of a child with cystic fibrosis. First, I would hate that there be less people with CF as the result of prenatal testing. That would mean we are killing them, not curing them. Second, although I work hard to raise money for a cure, I would not go back and erase CF from my child’s life, because she would not be who she is without it. She would be physically, emotionally, and mentally a completely different person. And the clarity and empathy that have come along with her diagnosis have changed me for the rest of my life, as they have changed her, her sister, her father, and her friends and extended family. Ronnie Sharpe, an adult with CF who runs a blog about his life and CF at RunSickBoyRun.com and is the creator of Cystic Life, an online community for people with CF, agrees. He says:

Sierra talks of cystic fibrosis as if she’s lived it, or frankly, ever been around it in any extent. Before anyone speaks on a disease that I was, yes, blessed with, please do more than just a Google search. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing literally thousands of people with cystic fibrosis. I’ve heard the phrase ‘I wish I had never been born at all’ exactly two times.

Twice. Yet Kaiser Permanente released statistics revealing that 95% of their Northern California patients whose unborn children had received a diagnosis of CF aborted those children. Nine out of 10 children with CF, stripped of any choice as to whether or not they wanted to live.

A friend of mine who lost her daughter to CF sixteen years ago recently told me a heart-touching story. Her daughter had desperately wanted to become a mother and was elated upon discovering that she was pregnant. Her mother asked her, “What if they baby has CF?” Her response was simple: “I don’t care if the baby has CF. What about my life has been so horrible?” Most people, if given the chance, would rather live with suffering than not live at all.

Fellow CF mom Samantha believes that we all may wish for good health but that life sometimes has other plans. She says:

I see and understand that these kids have a hard time and some may wish they were never born, but they were because we as parents love them from the first time we feel them move inside us. So it might be selfish for us to bring a sick child into this world, but oh well. There’s some things DNA tests can’t test for, like if your child is going to grow up to be a killer, a rapist, or a drug dealer.

Comparing Disability to Economic Status

The fact is, Sierra isn’t disabled (or at least doesn’t tell us she is) and never once claims to know anyone who is. She doesn’t do daily life-sustaining treatments, she isn’t discriminated against for the number of chromosomes she has, and she doesn’t have to worry about whether or not the building she’s entering will have doorways wide enough for a wheelchair. The only way she seems to even attempt to relate to people with disabilities is to mention that she was once poor. As a person who has lived his entire life with a chronic health condition, Sharpe says:

Sierra seems to think she’s been somehow enabled to speak for the struggles of someone that she terms ‘disabled’ because of her experience of being poor. I find that incredibly offensive and misguided. I’ve been living 32 years, fully-abled, and have a wife, a daughter, friends, job, house and blessed life to show for it.

Being poor is a struggle, yes. However, it, unlike cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome, is something you can escape. It doesn’t mean daily treatments and frequent trips to the hospital. It is in no way the same as have a genetic condition or a disability of any kind.



Sierra goes on to make additional arguments in favor of aborting children with disabilities:

Deciding Which Families Have the Right to Raise Their Children

Sierra believes that there are families who shouldn’t raise children with special needs. She writes:

Special needs children aren’t high-maintenance pets that exist to teach you lessons about fortitude and compassion. They are people[.] […] Not every family can afford the medical care of a special needs child. Not every family can afford the time spent caring for a special needs child, especially if they already have multiple children. To demand that families that know they lack these resources nonetheless give up everything to bring a child into a world where it will be neglected, inadequately treated by doctors, and in all likelihood end up in foster care or, as an adult, homeless, is cruelly insane.

Sierra’s right on one thing: these children are people. However, the theory that certain families just aren’t equipped to care for a child with a special need is a cop-out. It not only sells families short, but is a neon flashing sign of a failure on the part of our country and our communities. Yes, there are people who will struggle more with the extra demands of raising a child with special needs than others will, but how does that lead to a “likelihood” of ending up in foster care? More children with disabilities are living and thriving at home with their families than ever before because of programs that offer support. And why condemn a child to death rather than help the family to cope, or offer the family an alternative such as adoption? There’s a waiting list of families wanting to adopt a baby, disability or not. And why would doctors treat this child any differently from how they treat their other patients? Telling a mother she should abort her baby because she doesn’t have money is insulting and disgraceful. It leaves her feeling trapped, as though her only choice is abortion, and if she does abort, it sets her up for a lifetime of depression, guilt, and regret.

Turning Disability into a Fetish

Sierra writes:

Respecting the rights of disabled people does not mean honoring or celebrating disability itself[.] […] When you argue that children with Down syndrome are ‘special gifts’ or that raising them is a ‘rewarding experience’ for parents, you are appropriating their difficulties and fetishizing their difference. That is the opposite of respecting a disabled person.

Do I think that raising a child with cystic fibrosis is rewarding? Yes. Does that mean I have turned CF into a fetish? No. CF is also frustrating, emotionally exhausting, financially difficult, and stressful. However, so are many other things in life, such as education and work. Do the trials of getting a college degree outweigh the benefits? Absolutely not. It is my positive attitude towards cystic fibrosis, and my reminders to my daughter that life is a gift, which will help her grow into a successful adult. Sierra believes that we should respect people with disabilities, but how can she when she actually believes that their lives are worth less than hers? Her words are more harmful to those with disabilities than she realizes. As Ronnie Sharpe, blogger and creator of Cystic Life, an online community for those with CF, says:

Sierra is absolutely entitled to her opinion. Sadly, as a 32 year-old fully-abled adult male with cystic fibrosis, after reading her opinion I felt dehumanized, minimized and devalued. I thought that’s what she was trying to avoid in this world? She should think about that before she inserts herself into a disease community that she knows nothing about. You can’t ‘Google’ your way to an understanding of the lives of me and my friends.

Blaming Children with Disabilities for Family Problems

Sierra goes on to take the radical stance that children with disabilities are to blame for family problems. Family problems, including divorce, arise from all sorts of events in life. It is the adults, who can’t find the proper way to cope in such hard times, who fail. It is never the fault of an innocent child. However, Sierra writes:

In my own church, there was a woman with two children who got pregnant and found out her child had a fatal defect. She decided against having an abortion, believing that God would honor her and heal her child (or at least provide for it). The child lived 13 years in unspeakable pain, without cognition, undergoing surgery after surgery until she died – and by this time the family had exhausted its resources, the other two children had been practically abandoned. […] That child was not a ‘blessing.’ It was not a ‘rewarding’ experience – though the mother might tell you so out of sheer love and the need to justify her situation. The child’s birth destroyed her family, and she was never even aware enough of her own existence to realize she was loved.

Any decision that this mother may have made regarding the care of her family was not her child’s fault. It wasn’t the child’s birth that the destroyed the family. It was the parents’ actions that caused the harm. To claim that the mother would call raising her daughter a rewarding experience as a way to justify giving birth to the child is only that – a claim, an assumption on the part of Sierra. Every child is a blessing. It is uncompassionate and imprudent to say otherwise. In addition, any one of us, at any time, can become disabled, no matter how much we don’t want to believe it. Jacynda, mom to a child with CF, says:

What would she [Sierra] do if a child was in a car accident and had a head injury leaving them disabled? Why is it okay to select to kill a fetus with a disability, but not a person who acquires a disability later in life? Don’t they bring the same burden to the parents, the siblings, and to the family financial state?

Unfortunately, that may be where our country is headed. We start by killing those who are the weakest and we move on from there, to the elderly, those in nursing homes, and those who can’t speak up for themselves, just as the unborn can’t.

Despite her lack of firsthand experience with disability and genetic conditions, Sierra has decided to throw her support behind the termination of unborn humans with disabilities, as if the act of abortion will lead to the disappearance of disabilities altogether. The world will always include people with disabilities – those born with them and those who receive them later in life. It isn’t abortion that will cure genetic conditions. That will come from studying and working with those with such conditions. In order to cure a disease, someone must first be living with that disease. All that abortion achieves is the destruction of the weakest of us. The most innocent of us. The ones most worthy of our care and protection. Sharpe says it better than anyone:

Do I want to live in a world free of disease, disabilities and suffering? Of course! Do I want to get there by selectively choosing who is worthy enough to exist based on a strand of DNA? Never.


LifeNews Note: Nancy is a work at home mom who writes about parenting, special needs children, and the right to life. She is the lucky mother of two spirited little girls, one who has cystic fibrosis, and she spends any free moment she can find fundraising for a cure for CF. You can read her personal blog at www.ChronicAdmissions.com. Reprinted from the Live Action blog.