Blessed By The Gods
by Paul Walker
It has recently been announced in Britain that
every expectant mother will be able to have her child tested for Down�s
Syndrome. Should the foetus be found to have the Syndrome the mother may
choose to terminate the pregnancy.
No doubt some Christian groups will be horrified by this, believing
that any abortion is murder. I am not a campaigner against abortion. On
the contrary, I can see reasons when it might be necessary. I can fully
understand why some people choose to terminate their pregnancies. And as a
man I feel particularly uncomfortable about telling women what to do with
On the issue of Down�s Syndrome, the arguments for abortion are
compelling. The child has a high chance of having a heart condition. He or
she will have a learning disability, will look different and may not be
able to live completely independently. A mother who gives birth to such a
child is likely to have responsibility for that child for far longer than
a "normal" baby. Perhaps it is better all round if such a child is not
But, and here's the rub - my son has Down�s Syndrome.
Understandably, the sensible attitude to terminating foetuses with the
condition leaves me feeling awkward.
Many questions arise. Does the attitude towards unborn children with a
learning disability say something about our society�s attitude to such
people? Are they less important than "normal" people? Is my son to be less
valued than his two "normal" sisters?
It certainly doesn�t feel like that to me. I would be more convinced by
anti-abortion Christians if they showed more care and compassion to
disabled people once they are born.
Few societies can boast about their treatment of people with learning
disabilities. In Britain, they were until recently institutionalised very
young. In Germany, the Nazis killed them. Italians thought they had the
Perhaps the most interesting attitude I have come across was from the
Hindu doctor who spoke to me soon after our son was born. He was unaware
of my profession. He told me that in his culture parents with a child like
ours are considered blessed by the gods.
I was puzzled at the time. How could such a thing be a blessing? One
possible answer was that having a disabled child might teach me
compassion, among the most important of attributes. I�m not sure the birth
of our son has made me more compassionate. But I do know that I wouldn�t
change him now even if I could. Had he not been born, our family would
have never experienced some of the most wonderful moments of our lives.
So the real question turns out to be, what do we consider acceptable or
unacceptable in people? Squints and crooked teeth are now routinely
"corrected", for example. What an interesting word "corrected" is in this
context. Presumably people with straight teeth and eyes are correct, while
those without are incorrect.
Perhaps we are moving towards an abnormal society in which everyone
strives to be "normal". In contrast, there is something truly powerful in
the Christian tradition that all people are acceptable as they are.