Between capital punishment, abortion, assisted suicide, and forced euthanasia, we are less interested in securing the conditions for life than facilitating an end to it. Recent cases in Europe make this apparent. A mother is suing the NHS because her baby was born with Down Syndrome, and she claims that if she’d known, she would not have let the baby live. A French man was forced to starve to death, though he was breathing on his own, had brain activity, and family support. The experience of life doesn’t have conform to any preconceived notions of what life is.
In London, Edyta Mordel is reported to be suing the National Health Service. Her reasoning is that if she’d been aware that her son would be born with Down Syndrome, she would not now be the mother of a 4-year-old little boy. She is asking for compensation to cover the costs of caring for her son. No one doubts that it’s difficult to care for a child that needs additional support, and with its robust social safety net, the UK has funds to help. If she needs the funding, there is no reason to say that she would have chosen death for her child. There are other ways to get help than to negate a child’s existence.
Down Syndrome babies are routinely aborted in much of northern Europe. It’s at the point where most of those pregnancies that are discovered to be Down are terminated. With so much talk about the toxicity of normativity, it’s surprising that people can’t see how much prejudice toward a normative experience of life is evident in the termination of lives that will have a vastly different outlook. There is more to life than the proscribed modes, and there is no objective way to determine the correct ways, and those that are better off never being lived at all.
A young woman in the Netherlands was enabled by the medical community to take her own life in June. She has diagnosed herself as incurably depressed after experiencing multiple traumas over her 17 years. Though she had turned this trauma into a book and spoke openly about what she’d gone through, she petitioned her doctors to euthanize her. They refused, but instead of intervening when she decided to starve herself to death, her medical team provided palliative care, with her parents’ consent. Noa Pothoven had come to the conclusion that a life lived with the kind of mental pain she was experiencing was not worth it. Like many who arrive at this result, she committed suicide. What’s different is that she did it with the full awareness of doctors who could easily have jumped in and stopped it. In some deliberate way, these doctors must have assented to her perspective, and believed it too.
What kind of myopic narcissism leads people to believe that life can only be lived and enjoyed with full body and mind? This trend to advocate for death when life is viable is disturbing. Recently passed assisted suicide laws in the US allow those with terminal illnesses to end their lives before the illness does it for them. Assisted suicide laws and abortion for the purpose of determining the worth of life give the idea that there are plenty of circumstances under which a viable life is not worth living.
Is the promise of a premature grave a reason to rush sooner to it? Terminal patients and children with disabilities experience pain and suffering, but so too does all life, and knowing that pain is part of life isn’t a reason to not live it. We ask the terminally ill to decide that death is preferable to life before they have experienced death. We ask parents to determine that a disabled child’s life is not worth living before they’ve ever held their child in their arms. In both cases, we are making decisions without the full breadth of knowledge. We have to value life over death because life is all we get. There is nothing else; death is not a state of life.
The story of a family that takes in terminally ill babies whose own families have rejected them exemplifies the kind of experience of life that we should all advocate for. Cori Salchert was a registered nurse, and she was moved by the plight of babies who were born with terminal birth defects. She believed that these children deserved love, to be held and adored, despite their impending death. No matter how long life is, it is an opportunity for love, light, and grace. It is never right to extinguish it before its natural end.
We place a value on death over life, but death is literally the absence of life. We value the negative over the positive because we believe the absence of pain and suffering is better than life with those things. But every life is an opportunity to experience love and God’s grace, if only just for a second, and that makes it worth all the agony that any of us can bear, whether on our own behalf, or our children’s.