With all the talk going on about “imperfect” children and how they’re better off dead, this is a timely message from Archbishop Chaput.
It’s a simple fact: Raising a child with disabilities can be difficult.
The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection and imperfection. None of us is perfect. No child is perfect. The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That’s the choice in our personal lives. And that’s the choice in our life as society.
Most children with disabilities have a lifelong variety of health challenges, some of them serious. Government help is a mixed bag. Services for the disabled — who often lack the resources, voting power and lobbyists to defend their interests – are tenuous. In some places, the law requires good support and care, but legislators ignore their funding obligations, and no one holds them accountable. The ugly economic reality about persons who are disabled is that, in purely utilitarian terms, they’re never worth the investment.
That’s the bad news. But there’s also a lot of good news. A baby with Down syndrome birthed in 1944, the year when I was born, could expect to live about 25 years. Many spent their entire lives shut up in public institutions. Today, people with Down syndrome often survive into their 50s and 60s. Most can enjoy happy, productive lives. Most live with their families or share group homes with modified supervision and some measure of personal autonomy. Many hold steady jobs in the workplace. Some marry. A few have even attended college.
And just as some prejudiced people resent the imperfection, the inconvenience and the expense, of persons with disabilities, many other people of “normal” health and intellect see in such persons an invitation to be healed of their own sins and failures by learning how to love.
That really does tell it. All of the questions we face really come down to a decision to love. Life is imperfect but even at it’s most imperfect it is a gift. When we cease to see life as a gift, it becomes a commodity. And when life becomes a commodity it is subject to a cost/benefit analysis as to whether you deserve to live. And that’s pretty dangerous territory, isn’t it. Because who are the bean counters? Who decides who should live or die? Who would even want that responsibility? Not me. I would rather just open myself to love others, not gauge their usefulness to me or to society in general.
God asked us to love others, not measure their worth.