This past week a couple in Florida was awarded $21 million from a jury citing the “wrongful birth” of their child. Apparently the couple’s first child had suffered from severe birth defects, but because the doctor had misdiagnosed the defects, not realizing they were genetic, the couple had a second child with the exact same problem. The couple then claimed that had they known their first child’s birth defects were genetic, then they would have terminated the second pregnancy. Unfortunately they are now burdened with the full-time care of two handicapped children, instead of just one.
Interestingly, the nature of the case has some legal implications which may prevent the couple from being awarded the full $21 million. In response to the politics surrounding the case, the couple’s lawyer was quoted as saying, “I believe that this case is so powerful and this tragedy was so preventable and is so poignant, that it is the kind of case that should rise above the fray and rise above party politics.”
That statement makes my stomach turn–what exactly is the tragedy here? That a less than perfect child was born? I can’t imagine how that would make me feel if my parents thought of me as a tragedy. Not good, I bet.
Now I have to admit that there is a part of me that sympathizes with the couple. Caring for a child with a handicap costs a lot of time and money, and not all families are financially able to do so. I don’t know the financial situation of this particular family, but I imagine that if they’d known their next child would have the same defects, they would have probably tried to avoid getting pregnant at all. As a result, this misinformation may have very well put them in a difficult situation. But, I still can’t get over the lawyer’s words. A life was created and brought into this world, and even though it doesn’t meet our American standards, I hardly think labeling the child as a “tragedy” is appropriate–a child with a handicap is by no means comparable to natural disasters or fatal car accidents.
So while I sympathize with the couple, the entire situation seems to reflect more on our culture’s view of children than it does the mere circumstances. Just last week I was watching a show on MTV called “Engaged and Underaged” in which a young couple had decided to get married after having a baby together. You can imagine my shock and horror as I watched the young mother listen to her future mother-in-law berate her for having had the baby. The groom’s mother didn’t want the couple to get married, and when the teenage girl explained that she wanted to be married for the sake of the baby, the woman exclaimed, “Well I told you not to have the baby in the first place! Whose fault is that?!?!” (fyi, this was said while the baby boy was sitting right there…clearly a very sweet family moment)
I can’t get over the fact that this woman talked about her grandchild like that. You would have thought she was talking about buying pants that were too tight, or some other material product that we can return if it displeases or inconveniences us. But just like the lawyer in the Florida story, she simply saw this child’s birth as a “tragedy.”
That is the world we live in. Everything in this world is assigned value based on what it can or cannot do for us–even humans. This is clearly the result of massive self-centeredness, but it has frightening implications, because it robs anything of its inherent worth. Taken to the extreme, there are some secular philosophers and ethicists who believe that babies and old people have little inherent worth because of their inability to care for themselves, anticipate the future, or contribute to society. Because of this thinking, some people have concluded that it is not altogether immoral to let such beings die.
And while that example is extreme, we must not deceive ourselves into thinking we are untouched by this part of our culture’s thinking. This mentality has shaped almost every one of us to some degree or another. In any circumstance in which we see fit to sacrifice another person’s life for a greater cause, we are putting a price on their life. We consider their life to be less valuable than the cause itself, a cause that can be war, peace, politics, religion, or simply the American dream. Almost all of us have figured out ways to devalue other people’s humanity if it stands in the way of what we want. Even on a less violent level, women will insult and dehumanize other women that they are jealous of. If a girl is standing in the way of you feeling confident about yourself, then by all means make fun of her, call her a slut, and slander her. Don’t think about the fact that she has a mother and a father, that she has a heart and a soul, or that she was made in the image of God.
This mentality is not, however, the vision of life that we are given in Scripture. Not only are we told that each life has inherent value simply by virtue of the fact that God saw fit to create it, but more importantly, each person and all of creation is made in the image of God. How dare we reduce people to mere statisitcs when we are talking about God’s image-bearers! We may not be at the forefront of the pro-choice debate, but most of us still have a long ways to go when it comes to taking human life seriously–whether it’s babies or illegal immigrants or even murderers, each person is God’s precious child. It’s about time we start acting like it.