Wayne Grudem has rock-star status in our household. We have his Systematic Theology (and so should you!) and we’ve given away copies of Politics – According to the Bible. He is a great thinker, clear writer, Biblical scholar and an articulate defender of the unborn.
But he missed an opportunity to come out strong in defense of those living with disabilities in Politics – According to the Bible. It reminded me that even our supporters sometimes need to be nudged on how they can best help our cause.
In the section titled “Objections regarding personhood of the preborn child” he begins with a strong statement:
2) Birth defects: Another objection concerns preborn children who are known to have birth defects. Should parents not have the right to abort such children, thus saving themselves much hardship and saving the child from a life of suffering?
But the relevant question here is this: Would we think it right to put such a child to death after it is born?
If we have already established that the preborn child should be treated as a person from the moment of conception, then being born or not yet being born should make no difference in assessment of the child’s personhood. If we would not think it right to kill such a child after it is born, then we should not think it right to kill the child before it is born.
Therein lies the problem – it is NOT established that all preborn children should be treated as people. Even for those who are generally inclined to have a pro-life orientation, disability seems to tip the balance toward abortion rather than bringing that child into the world.
There is also a philosophical line of thinking that sees disability as negating the personhood of a little human being, and that the strong (parents, doctors, government) have the right and possibly even the obligation to ‘humanely’ end the life of a little human being – even one who has already been born!
Secondly, Dr. Grudem wanders into an argument that we can’t win against the culture:
Moreover, prior to birth the “possible” or “probable” diagnosis of birth defects can be in error. Sometimes children can be perfectly normal even though there was a diagnosis of a “possible” or “probable” birth defect. Many birth defects can be very small and not have significant impact on the child’s life. And even when the birth defect is quite significant (for example, Down syndrome) the child can still lead a happy life and bring much joy and blessing to his or her own family and to many others.
Diagnoses of genetic disorders are becoming more accurate and less expensive. The argument that ‘it might turn out ok’ is of no comfort to a family facing disability if they have no orientation toward God’s sovereignty over all things; they are just as likely to say it isn’t worth the risk.
The fact that most birth defects are not that significant has little weight in a culture obsessed with comfort, wealth, status and beauty. We’re already seeing the first signs of sex selection in the United States; why would a family put up with a minor disability if they don’t even want to keep a boy or a girl of the ‘wrong’ sex?
Finally, the ‘brings much joy’ argument is certainly true, but must rely on sentimentality. There are abortionists across the country who are willing to grant that we can be sentimental about our own ‘choices’ with our child, and will even disingenuously agree that people with disabilities have value. They will not deny for a minute that we experience joy in our children with disabilities.
But in the end, sentimentality will at best be a minor argument (if presented at all) and will not spare the child who’s parents do not want to be subjected to all the expense, suffering and inconvenience.
Even as I re-read my own words I’m feeling like I’m being harsh with Dr. Grudem. I don’t want that to be the last word – I have deep regard for him and for his work and can happily recommend you buy and read Politics – According to the Bible.
But maybe in his next edition of the book he could re-write that section, putting more of his significant intellectual and writing abilities squarely on this issue in defense of little children with disabilities.