In an article titled “Twenty reasons to think twice about aborting a baby with anencephaly,” Peter Saunders tells the story of how his thinking was jarred out of the usual view of this common practice:
Before I qualified as a doctor I probably would have taken the generally expressed view [of support for aborting a child with a fatal abnormality], but an experience I had as a junior doctor dramatically changed my attitudes both to disability and abortion….
The administrative clerk on the medical ward where I was working was heavily pregnant and I asked her when she was due. She gave me the date and before I could say anything else said, ‘my baby has anencephaly’. While I was inwardly asking why she had not had an abortion, she added, ‘I could not bring myself to end the life of my own baby’.
The baby was born a few weeks later and survived about a week. She held it, nursed and cared for it and said her goodbyes before its inevitable death.
Up until that point I had not contemplated that such an approach was even possible. She not only demonstrated that it was but taught me a huge lesson about courage, compassion and how to face and handle tragedy, grief and bereavement. I have never forgotten it and resolved then, that if I was ever in the same situation I would want to do the same.
Saunders offers twenty concise and compelling reasons why we should not end the lives of children with anencephaly. For example:
A baby with anencephaly is a dependent relative
Babies with anencephaly are profoundly dependent but are also biologically related to their parents and carry their genes. They are therefore dependent relatives and so should I believe be treated with the same love and respect as any other dependent and dying close relative.
Here are all twenty reasons (please see the article for a brief explanation of each):
- A baby with anencephaly is a human being
- A baby with anencephaly is not brain dead
- A baby with anencephaly is a dependent relative
- A baby with anencephaly is a disabled person
- Palliative care is the best response to terminal illness
- We should not be making judgments about the worth of other people
- Abortion for anencephaly is discriminatory
- Abortion for anencephaly is often a coercive offer
- Abortion for anencephaly is contrary to every historic ethical code
- Abortion for anencephaly exchanges one problem for a whole set of different problems
- Saying goodbye properly is important for resolving grief and achieving closure
- Abortion for anencephaly can be profoundly damaging to a mother’s mental health
- Pregnancy is the most intimate form of hospitality
- There are real dangers of incremental extension once we embark down this route
- Deformity does not define us
- Easing our own pain is not sufficient reason for ending another person’s life
- Anencephaly forces us to acknowledge and face our deepest prejudices
- Major life decisions should not be made at a time of crisis
- We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by the media or those with an agenda
- Death is not the end
Most of these reasons to not abort don’t just apply to babies with fatal abnormalities, they also apply to any baby with a disability. If you’re terrified by the knowledge that your baby is going to be born with a disability, I urge you to read carefully through the explanations of each of these reasons given in the article.
And consider, also, who God is, who we are, and why we’re here. There are many sufferings we endure in this life, but God does not permit even one instance of suffering for which He doesn’t have a purpose. Just as Jesus revealed God’s glory and grace to us through His suffering, so our own suffering can reveal God’s greatness and grace to us and to others. And that, after all, is what we are here on this earth to do.
If you’re not sure how God could be glorified through your having a child with disabilities, read Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas. And if you need some encouragement, try these lectures from Desiring God’s recent conference, “The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability.”
Let our view of human beings, disabilities, and suffering not be the same as the world’s.