In the cities of ancient Greece a public performance of pathos would be staged. The public tragedy on the stage would somehow cleanse the members of the polis by their participation in the great dramas of human tragedy. The hubris, the shame, and the cruelty of the fates and gods are held up for public consumption, and the city breathes easy once again. As if the public performance of tragedy atones for the crime, and restores the citizens to commonweal. The Sheepcat alerted me to a recent performance, which he also addressed on his blog. Not everything that needs to be said will be said here and now, but I must begin...
We have returned to our roots. A story in the Globe and Mail (might be offline in a week or so) recounts the decision of “C. Smyth” and her husband to have an abortion 19 weeks into their pregnancy. It is a rather sad tale on many levels. C tells us that she and her husband of 7 years
“could be perfect parents. We're professionals, with university degrees, own our own house, it's even paid off (we're financially careful yuppies). We're also fit -- we do Ironman events, marathons, play golf, travel and help support my parents.”
So what is wrong with the scene? It happens that “our 19-week-old miracle is turning out to be tragically flawed. A dreaded extra chromosome -- a triple X -- has robbed us of a healthy baby.”
“I cry myself to sleep."
Yes, and the agonizing choice you made has also spared you further tears.
"My husband researches triple X on the computer. We have to decide quickly because it's already 19 weeks into the pregnancy. We don't feel capable of raising a severely disabled child. It would be different if we didn't have a choice, but we do.”
Righteous anger is an easily obtained commodity these days. Shrill prophets against injustice are a dime a dozen, so forgive me if I play one for a moment. You did a few minutes of googling and on the basis of that decide what kind of child this will be? Go ahead, everyone, look for yourselves. Try hitting triple x syndrome on your favorite search engine and see what comes up. I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t buy it. To co-opt a phrase from another campaign - this is the 21st Century. Catch up with the science, the education, the "progress". University educated? Professionals? Urbane and sophisticated?
And then comes the question, which is really a statement: “Isn't it more cruel to bring a child burdened with so many disadvantages into the world?”
Cruel to whom? To the child? Or to a lifestyle of Ironman events, marathons, travel and golf? What is it that prevents you from parenting? You have no strength, no character, no ability to push through the wall? You have no resources? (“financially careful yuppies”)
I am sorry to say that I don’t trust you. I suspect that someday the C Smyths will look at my child and ask a similar question: “isn’t it more cruel to sustain a child burdened with so many disadvantages in the world?” I know some of you will say it is an unreasonable stretch, but the link is there: abortion of the flawed and euthanasia of the flawed. There are no real grounds for making a distinction if you hold that there is truth in C’s “question.”
“We had already decided if it was a Down syndrome baby (one in 30 chance for a mother over 40) we wouldn't continue. I thought even my church-going mother (who goes door-to-door collecting money for those who are anti-abortion, and their pro-life campaign) could forgive that.”
C, let me reassure you of something, that God is always ready to forgive, even when people (including “church going” ones) aren’t. And I suppose there are few "pro-lifers" out there who know this kind of decision from the inside. But to forgive is different than to rationalize or accept and say “that’s okay”, and then sweep under the rug.
“But what about this situation; it's not quite Down syndrome, but it's close.”
To what can I compare this generation? Why do the prophets rise in selective anger? I’ll wait for the letters to the editor (although the editor selects which ones will “represent” an alternative view). But again, why do the prophets rise in selective anger? I suppose at heart we all have our causes. Some would (and all should) rise in anger had that sentence read:
“We had already decided if it was a black baby we wouldn't continue. We knew from genetic testing that our child might be mulatto. It’s not quite black, but it’s close.”
“We had already decided if it was a gay-gene baby we wouldn't continue. We knew from genetic testing that our child might not have a high heterosexual drive. It’s not quite gay, but it’s close.”
I hear you.
“We don't feel capable of raising a severely disabled child”, one that is “tragically flawed”.
And while this might sound harsh, to tell you the truth, I agree. Who is? I'm not. Sometimes the C Smyths of the world are too much into their lifestyle; they had already imagined their “treasured only child”, their “little athlete”. In the whole list of qualities for parenthood, they neglected to mention love.
There is so much public tragedy here – this couple had to make a decision, one “too sensitive to share with family or friends”, yet they are able to bring it to an international stage in a major newspaper.
What are the tragedies here? That any parent is faced with the brokenness of creation. It hurts. I know. That at such a critical time, they could turn to no one else. They are alone in this. And of course, there is the requisite self reproach from and to the Church – why didn’t we connect with these people at some point in their lives? But if there was ever a case for “lifestyle abortion”, I think C has laid it out before us.
“I hate the sanctimonious people who have made this more difficult than it has to be. No one begrudges couples thwarting God's plan by spending tens of thousands of dollars on fertility drugs, in vitro treatments, donor eggs, sperm, and surrogate mothers -- they get sympathy. But if you don't want to keep a seriously flawed baby, you bundle your pain in guilt and shame.”
No, it’s not the “sanctimonious” people who have made it more difficult. It is the people, the people, with genetic disabilities and “tragic flaws” who have made it more difficult. Sanctimonious persons like myself are only the messengers. It is their cry of humanity which has made it more difficult for you. You see, Ms Smyth, they want an answer to the “question” which you posed.
Unlike other oppressed minorities, they have few self-advocates. They do not stage demonstrations or run for parliament. They do not organize media campaigns or engineer public vocabulary. They do not file human rights complaints or challenge court cases.
And so sometimes the simple but unavoidable diagnosis is left for others to pronounce.
You do not want me,
because you are selfish,
and you are willing to maintain that selfishness
at my expense.
And that, my friends, is a terminal diagnosis.
When I think of the future for my child and her peers, it is not the rapist, the abuser, or the paedophile whom I fear. It is the C Smyths of this world, who with their genuine personal tragedy, their understandable choice, deny the humanity of another and openly declare: you are not one of us.
In the spirit of the tragedies of old, somehow sharing the drama with the polis in a national newspaper eases the pain, atones for the crime, and appeases the gods.
And of course, the offender is banished from the city.
the tragically flawed, cruelly suffering under the burdens of disadvantage