Sunday, November 7, 2010

Everyone is a gift

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." It's found first of all in Psalm 118, then again in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts and 1 Peter. This morning the Catholic Church read Psalm 118 at Morning Prayer in the Divine Office and it reminded me of all the people we reject and yet they become cornerstones in our families and our communities given a chance to live and grow.

Recently I spent time with a family that had a child with Down syndrome. She was the most wonderful person, a true light of this world and the cornerstone of her family. Yet many people with Down syndrome won't be born at all because in New Zealand we actively screen for such conditions. There is nothing wrong with prenatal testing in and of itself, indeed the Catholic Church said in  Donum Vitae – the Gift of Life (1978):

"Such diagnosis is permissible, with the consent of the parents after they have been adequately informed, if the methods employed safeguard the life and integrity of the embryo and the mother, without subjecting them to disproportionate risks)"

What is wrong is what prenatal testing can lead to - eugenic abortion.

The Nathaniel Centre (the NZ Catholic bioethics centre) has a document on prenatal testing in which it says:

"We live in a society in which disability is largely perceived from a 'deficit' perspective. There is abundant evidence to suggest that when prenatal testing reveals the existence of significant fetal abnormality, many parents experience pressure from the health system to terminate the pregnancy."
The girl I spent time with didn't have 'deficits', she had special needs of course, but her life, her state, wasn't one of deficit with all that the word implies. She was a positive and beautiful person whom I came to love in a very short time. How many wonderful people aren't allowed to be born because they are rejected? And how much of that rejection comes from people other than the parents?
The New Zealand Government has a pamphlet about screening called "Increased Chance" and it clearly talks about terminating a pregnancy when the baby shows an increased chance of having Down syndrome or another condition. However I am pleased to see that the pamphlet talks about the baby as just that, a baby. I'm glad that it acknowledges the humanity of the baby and though it talks about termination it also talks about continuation of the pregnancy.