While sitting anxiously in my son’s hospital room over the holiday season and looking over his thin arms that are filled now with bruises and bandages from the multiple blood draws and IVs, I had a lot time to consider the delicate, preciousness of his life. Not just to me and my husband, who have cherished every moment of his almost nine years, but to all who come in contact with him. As team after team came in to evaluate my son and order more diagnostic tests, I couldn’t help but think about the value and importance they placed on his life.
Yet sadly, I’m sure many of the doctors and nurses who cared for my son during this recent 11-day hospital stay would say that his life would have had no value nine years ago when he was alive, turning and kicking, in my womb. When asked whether they are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” many would reply “pro-choice” and then go on to articulate in what cases and circumstances abortion should be permitted and even celebrated.
Marking the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, once again Americans on both sides of the abortion issue are openly expressing why they care enough about it to stand, march and protest year after year.
While the majority of abortions in America happen in the first trimester of pregnancy and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, will take place because of economic concerns or concerns about family structure, it’s the so-called “hard cases” that occupy much of the rhetoric from abortion advocates and are the rationale for why our nation must keep abortion legal in all nine months. Cases like mine.
Two of my four children have cystic fibrosis, a deadly genetic disease that thankfully is now seeing half of its victims survive to 30 and beyond. From time to time, those with CF have to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics to improve lung function and fight dangerous infections. And given the risks of infections, CF requires hours of daily diligence in maintaining a mostly germ-free environment, administering breathing treatments, and carrying for the physical needs of stressed bodies in need of calories and medications almost constantly. After my firstborn son Gunner was diagnosed with the condition, my husband and I decided to continue having children. My next two children were born without the condition, but my youngest — my only daughter, Gracie — also has CF.
Some would argue that my children should never have been born and that once diagnosed with the conditions, the kindest act would have been to end their life. In our culture today we see a number ofpeople eliminated because of perceptions of their abilities, cold-eyed assessments of another’s “quality of life.”
Consider that in the U.S. the estimated abortion rate for preborn infants with Down syndrome is 85%, while in some countries the abortion rate for that condition goes into the high 90-percentile range.
Eliminating lives deemed complicated or costly permeates our cultural conversations about how we value pre-born life, as an accountant-like attitude presumes that a life well lived should be trouble free, pain free, conflict free and profitable on a balance sheet.
But nobody’s life is perfect.
My family has been tested and will continue to be tested over and over again in the years to come as Gunner and Gracie’s diseases advance, but my hope is that our love and commitment to each other are all the sweeter as we work to value each moment. An emphasis on “quality” as defined by an uninterested third party ignores the value life holds for the person who experiences it and overlooks the lessons others can learn as we watch people rise above their circumstances.
I can’t be the only one who was inspired by the Shriners Hospital commercials in which joyful children are shown to be more than their disability, or who was moved by Frank Stephens’ testimony before Congress when he said, “I Am A Man With Down Syndrome And My Life Is Worth Living.”
In isolating ourselves from people who deal with difficulties, we lose the chance to learn from them, and we fool ourselves that perfection is a realistic goal. My life is complicated, stressful and exhausting, and my children sometimes struggle to catch their breath, but they contribute to this world by their very existence.
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As I consider the Roe v. Wade anniversary, I stand in solidarity with all who find that life is worth living, especially when living it requires more of someone. I identify with those who work harder to do things others find effortless and with respect for the unique contribution of every life. I reject a mindset that offers conditional acceptance to people based on perceptions of what they can or cannot do.
Everyone, at some point, will be vulnerable and hurting, and in those moments we all must rely on a culture of life in which others understand that our worth is infinitely greater that what we cost.