Every couple experiencing pregnancy gets this question: do you want a boy or a girl? Many will respond this way, “we don’t care, just as long as it's healthy.”
But "healthy" exists on a spectrum of possibilities just like disability. And that spectrum is becoming narrower with every year that passes.
Last week, The New York Times reported that University of Washington genome scientists were able identify the DNA sequence of a fetus with 98% accuracy, and with safer, non-invasive techniques. This is a stunning achievement:
The accomplishment heralds an era in which parents might find it easier to know the complete DNA blueprint of a child months before it is born.
That would allow thousands of genetic diseases to be detected prenatally.
Currently, these tests are not yet accurate enough and too expensive for general use. But it is anticipated, given current trends in scientific discovery and falling costs, that these tests could be available within the next five years.
The immediate consequence is that more children with disabilities will be aborted. The tests that currently exist have already demonstrated that when Down syndrome or spina bifida is found, the child, statistically, will die. The child will die. The child will be killed. It is an anomaly if the child with a disability is allowed to live.
Chasing More Specificity
But the author of The New York Times article points out that with these tests, parents will be tempted to chase after more and more specific preferences. Will our child be "smart"? Or "athletic"? Will he be handsome or she be beautiful?
Most articles on this subject at least reference a possible dystopic future of designer babies. Frankly, that’s of less concern to me than an increasingly idolatrous mindset that says I have the right and the responsibility to determine what is best for me — including the physical and/or developmental makeup of my children, or somebody else’s children.
That mindset has consequences beyond the obvious. Disability lives on one end of a spectrum of possibilities for any child. Once we determine any one of those possibilities is unacceptable, we open the door for "choice" on all of the possibilities, including sex, race, or varying degrees of what would otherwise be considered normal.
Where Christians Must Point
We must point to a different reality, even though it will appear foolish to most of the world:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)
God creates little human beings for his glory and for the good of his people. They are not accidents nor are they surprises to God when they come the way they do.
Further, God has promised to send the helper (John 14:16), supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19) and turn all things to our good (Romans 8:28). That is a stunning reality that makes this genome discovery look very small in light of God’s omnipotence and love.
And it should fuel our hope that when God creates a child who will live, and maybe die because of his disabilities, God will help us love that child and welcome that child and let that child express his gifts, for God’s glory and for our good.
Jesus, the Greatest Treasure
If you doubt that is possible, Nancy and David Guthrie have lived through the hard reality of losing two children to a rare genetic anomaly. And they found Jesus to be the greatest treasure. You can hear part of their story through this interview with Nancy last year. And you can hear directly from her this November at our conference, "The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability."
I hope you will attend to be encouraged in your own faith and to prepare yourself to treasure God in all circumstances. The day is coming when you, or members of your church, will be given a choice that is not truly ours to make. On that day, the world will know who or what you treasure most.