Friday, November 12, 2010

A Life Worthy Of Life

"My son, August, has a number of quirks that distinguish him from the typically developing 10-year-old," begins English Professor Chris Gabbard on his son who "lives with cerebral palsy, is a spastic quadriplegic, has cortical visual impairment (meaning he is legally blind), is completely nonverbal and cognitively disabled, has a microcephalic head, and must wear a diaper" — A Life Beyond Reason. To his family, "he seems merely a little eccentric, possessor of a few odd quirks... just another member of an already quirky family." The father continues:
    In the eyes of others, August resembles Terri Schiavo, who, for the secular-educated, triggers the fearful response of "better off dead than disabled." Many such well-meaning people would like to put an end to August's suffering, but they do not stop to consider whether he actually is suffering. At times he is uncomfortable, yes, but the only real pain here seems to be the pain of those who cannot bear the thought that people like August exist. For many of those folks, someone with August's caliber of cognitive and physical disability raises the question of where humanity leaves off and animality begins. But that animal-human divide is spurious, a faulty either-or.

    And then there are the Christians, who see in August a child of God. Given the educated alternative I just sketched out, that response seems a relief. Here in the South, they come up and say "God bless!," to which, depending on the occasion and the person, I sometimes respond, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
I had to laugh at that. As for my family, a few seconds later, we could have been in the same situation. A few seconds later, we might not have to be centering our life around physical therapy. That's life. Get over it. And Lutheran though I was raised, I was unaware that, as Professor Gabbard informs, "Martin Luther held the opinion that, because a child such as August was a 'changeling'—merely a mass of flesh, a massa carnis, with no soul—he should be drowned."

We read of a father who "was deeply ambivalent, having been persuaded by the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer's advocacy of expanding reproductive choice to include infanticide," who could later say:
    I had seen the dark side of medicine—the quintessence of the Enlightenment—and firm ground slipped out from under me. Then came the culmination of the Terri Schiavo case, six years to the month after August's birth. That a Florida court would order the deliberate starvation and dehydration of a woman whose mental disability differed not that much from my son's struck me as what Gayatri Spivak terms "an enabling violation." Schiavo's death served as a turning point for me, and new interests, beliefs, and curiosities began to coalesce.
Tolle, lege.

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.