We were fortunate to have a genetic counselor respond to my post last week on prenatal counseling.
It was thoughtfully written, even as he or she disagreed with me. I recommend you read it.
I have emailed the below to the counselor. I am posting my reply here to invite further comment from everyone. How would you have answered?
And I apologize for the length – I did not have time to make it shorter.
Dear genetic counselor,
I’m grateful for your comments and that you took the time to reply. I would ask, even plead, that you consider what I am writing here. There is a great deal at stake.
God has obviously gifted you with a desire to serve others and the ability to understand and communicate extraordinarily complex aspects of God’s human creation. That is a tremendous trust you have been give. But with it also comes warning:
- Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48b
Whether you agree or not, you are in a position of authority in your counseling. People will trust that your education and experience gives them the opportunity to make a good decisions. Those in authority will be held to a special kind of accountability before God.
And I believe you when you write that you attempt to bring non-directive counseling to your patients. From our experiences, which you may have also noted on the New York Times blog on this subject, that is not the norm.
Documented abortion rates of 90% or higher for children identified with Down syndrome clearly show where society has landed in terms of the value of these children. I will not make an apology for asking counselors in your position to provide some balance, even advocating for their very lives, because the evidence is clear that these children are already as good as dead if their genetic anomaly is discovered before they are born.
So I write this not just for the sake of the people under your care, but also for you. Jesus promises his help and provision in this life and ever increasing measures of joy for eternity – and I want that for you as well. But it must be rooted in something greater than the here and now, and that impacts decisions that are made in this present time.
The present time is hard. You rightfully point out some of the difficulties people face such as lack of economic ability or medical care. And, let’s face it, many people just don’t believe they can handle the time, the heartache and the inconvenience of disability. If you have had the opportunity to read this blog, you know that we experience hardship on every side.
But because we begin in a different place, we also end up making different decisions; I freely proclaim my desire that others make those same decisions with us.
For example, from your response, and please correct me if I’m wrong, you would say that people have the right and the responsibility to consider the impact a child with a disability would have on the parents and the family. I would agree. You would include in those rights, the authority to end that pregnancy if a disability was discovered.
And that is one place where we differ. Because God has created this child for his good purpose, we wait with expectation of God’s promise of help. Exodus 4:11 is a clear statement of God’s intentionality in creating some to live with disability. He says so again in John 9:3. And he makes a blanket statement about his creating all life in Psalm 139:13-16.
I believe you would also say it is incumbent on parents to plan for the future. Disability confounds such plans, so, if I am representing you fairly (and please correct me if I am wrong), parents could rightfully terminate a pregnancy because of the unknowns associated with disability.
Again, if you have had the opportunity to read this blog, you will know we live with uncertainty in our knowledge of the future. Right now my own family is trying to figure out a vexing issue involving my son’s seizures.
But, again, the place we start from is that God has perfect knowledge of the future; in fact, he is entirely in charge and taking us to his preferred future. And he is doing it entirely for our good (Romans 8:28)! This promise, for those who love him, is glorious! And while our pleasure-loving, suffering-avoiding culture cannot understand it, God uses suffering to bring people to a knowledge of and trust in him. For those of us who have experienced it, the suffering is entirely worth it.
Of course we also try to plan appropriately, but we can live in the knowledge that God has given us our children, knows our future, and has promised to supply every need we have (Philippians 4:19).
That is a global promise for those who cling to Jesus. As you also know, much heartache comes after children are born – a typically developing child experiences a traumatic brain injury, another contracts a serious illness, a third becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. There are no guarantees, even with the most careful of planning, that life will be as one expects. But those who trust in God know that he will help in every circumstance, even the most horrific of circumstances.
A man who knew something about pain and suffering wrote this:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:25-27
That same man would write this:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
I have experienced this as well. When my son was first born, I considered myself cursed. Now, I see that it was all mercy and all grace. Families in our situation will say over and over again, this child is worth it. There are more examples than I can number of people identifying their child with a disability as the means God chose to use to break them of their pride, their obsession with material things, their ambitions that were coming at the cost of their families and marriages.
The very same people who will freely admit raising their child with a disability is hard, even the hardest thing they have ever been asked to do, will say that child has brought the greatest change for good in their lives.
I pray that is part of the non-directive reality you are sharing.
And none of it is anchored in ourselves, our child-rearing techniques, the medical interventions we pursue or the education we are required to advocate for, even though it is guaranteed under Federal law. It is anchored in the obedient life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
You are right that ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ is in the Bible. In fact, Jesus said it in Matthew 7. Carefully read, it is a warning to take care of one’s own sins before judging others. For that, I take your warning and am grateful for it. It is still far too easy for me to slip into self-righteousness.
It is not, however, a call to be silent. Jesus was not silent about advocating for the poor, the weak, the widow and the orphan. And he did so not just for the sake of the powerless and the poor, but for the sake of the entire body. When people are free in Jesus – both free from their sin and free from anxiety about the future – remarkable things happen that bring glory to God and peace to their own souls.
It is the weakest that Paul describes as ‘indispensable’ (1 Corinthians 12:22) – not the powerful, the wealthy or the educated. God has particular care for such little ones who are entirely defenseless, hated by the culture, and legally allowed to be destroyed.
It does not have to be that way. Jesus promised freedom:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
That freedom came at a huge price – his very life, in obedience to the Father, being poured out as a sacrifice for us. He who never sinned took on our sin for us, to bring glory to the Father, to satisfy all the righteous requirements we could never meet, and to offer us joy in Jesus for eternity. That is amazing! It is entirely free – we can’t earn it, we can’t buy it, we can’t justify ourselves into it, we can’t talk God into it. It is all gift.
Someday this life will end. For some of our children, life is just a few minutes outside of the womb. For others, 100 years will pass like a vapor. In comparison to eternity, parenting a child with a disability (knowing God will help us even on the darkest, hardest days, providing strength for the day) becomes something we not only can do, we want to do it for his glory and for our own joy.
Paul talked about it this way (remember, he is the man who experienced the hardships listed above):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
Won’t you join us in this kind of freedom with Jesus? This sermon from John Piper says a little bit more about this Jesus, and about disability. I pray that God would open your eyes to see him and treasure him above all things.