A question.

In an article for Slate.com, a mother — herself born with and survivor of a physical disability — expresses the wish that her son, stricken with an incurable disease, had never been born:

If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs … I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure.

(Emily Rapp: Rick Santorum and prenatal testing: I would have saved my son from his suffering Slate.com. February 27, 2012.

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In Australia, Academic philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva have written a peer-reviewed paper, published in a journal of “medical ethics”, advocating the murder of newly born babies, substituting for infanticide the kinder, gentler euphemism, “after-birth abortion”. They assert that:

“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”

Source: “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” is in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

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There was something in the confluence of those two news items in recent days that brought to mind a passage from That Strange Divine Sea: Reflections on Being a Catholic by Christopher Derrick, which — so aptly capturing “the Catholic perspective” contra that of the “modern world” — floored me upon reading it as an inquiring agnostic in college, and sticks with me to this day:

Human existence always involves suffering, and this can sometimes be bitter indeed, inescapable too: the life of man can certainly be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But with the first words of the Bible in mind, in the first words of the Creed as well, we believe in the goodness of the Creator, and we therefore see all human existence and in fact all ‘being’ as an absolute and unquantifiable good. . . . it makes no sense at all to speak of some point (of poverty or cancer or whatever) beyond which life simply isn’t worth living.

This is the first principle and paradox of the Faith. It can be stated apothegmatically. It is not a good thing to be diseased and starving. But it is a good thing to be, even when diseased and starving.

A dear and terrible principle, and it’s what divides the Church from the world most centrally — most crucially.

A more specific picture will throw it into sharper relief, and (if considered carefully) may help you to decide which side you’re really on.

Imagine a young girl who lives alone in a tar-paper shack, in some frightful shanty town on the outskirts of the big city in — say — Latin America. She lives, of course, by prostitution; and eventually she has a baby whom she cannot feed. The big jets go fuming up from the airport nearby, tight-packed with steaks and martinis for the Beautiful People — that is, for you and me. But there’s little for this girl to eat, so she has no milk; and in any case, the baby has inherited some of her diseases. So he looks out, briefly and with unfocused eyes, upon God’s world, and then he curls up and dies. His mother borrows a spade, buries him somewhere, and goes back to work.

As you know, I am not being fanciful or morbid in outlining such a story: things of that sort happen all the time and in many places.

Was it a bad thing for that bay to die? It was an abomination, a blot on the entire human conscience: if you and I have any share in the responsibility for it, we must fear the Lord’s anger.

But was it a bad thing for that baby to live?

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