A world without Down's?
How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:2-4, NIV)
When did you last see a child in Cambridge with Down’s Syndrome?
Sally Phillips’ brave and remarkable BBC2 documentary A World without Downs? explains why there are fewer than there used to be. Antenatal screening for Down’s is routine, and 9/10 of pregnant mothers who are told their child probably has Down’s choose to have an abortion. The total number of Down’s terminations is only likely to increase as new screening techniques become available.
In the film Phillips, who herself has a son with Down’s, questions the unchallenged assumption, shared by medics and patients alike, that Down’s is a proper reason for a termination. She visits Iceland, where the termination rate is now 100%, and California, where she meets a man who sees genome sequencing as the way to avoid having babies with any “defects”. She touches on the profound questions this raises about the kind of society we are becoming.
The Bible (which, as I mentioned in last week’s blog, helps us not to be unconsciously conformed to the pattern of this world) challenges the assumptions behind Down’s-related abortions. We are made in the image of God - human life is not simply to be taken because things don’t seem good. All people are to be valued. The weak and vulnerable are to be protected, as we see in the Psalm quoted above. Suffering and difficulty aren’t things to be avoided at all costs.
The attitudes Phillips questions are endemic in our culture - an unquestioned norm of a society that is profoundly selfish, hates inconvenience and despises the weak. But to a biblical worldview, screening out the “imperfect” is horrific. Looking at the history of the last hundred years, what we have now looks much like eugenics under a new guise.
Thank God that He didn’t screen us out. Instead, He reached into our world and bothered with us, at enormous cost to Himself. Thank God for forgiveness and new life in Christ!
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