Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

11 Better Off Dead

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This is number 11 in a series. If you want to read this series from the beginning, scroll down to number 1.

At the moment, it’s early Monday morning, and I’m back on the pills that make me feel freezing cold and shaky. That’s how those pills work: three weeks on, one week off. And if I had to pay for them, they would cost $12,000 a month.

You know what’s worse? They’re not close to being the most expensive prescription on the market.

On the other hand, my out of pocket expense for them is $0, so there’s that.

At any rate, in order to have some semblance of a life, I get up very early and don’t take pills for a few hours. The effects of the pills—the freezing and shaking—only last a few hours, and recede steadily over the course of the day. So by the time I wake up the next morning, I feel fairly normal.

One of the things I did while feeling fairly normal this morning was to read more commentary on St. Thomas, and I ran across one of those things I find best about Christianity.

And yes, I know that it’s never been followed perfectly. But bear with me.

The idea under consideration is that human beings are made “in the image of God.”

And as St. Thomas stresses, thus means ALL human beings. All of them. And that includes those human beings born with what we now politely call “birth defects.”

The birth defect thing has been on my mind lately because of a pair of cases in the UK where the British National Health Service forcibly prevented parents from seeking further treatment for children born severely disabled because it was “in the best interests of the child” to be…dead.

The idea that the very sick and the profoundly disabled are better off dead is an old one, and it runs rampant through modern medicine. That is why I never dismissed fears of “death panels” as one of the reactions to Obamacare.

In a way, we have death panels already, evidenced by the rock solid conviction of so many medical professionals that very sick or profoundly disabled people “don’t want to live like that” or, if they do, are “irrational,” so their wish to go on living can safely be ignored.

But right now, I want to look at a very specific case: Down Syndrome.

One of the reasons Christianity spread so quickly in Greece and Rome was this: it condemned the common practice of killing babies born ”defective” or “deformed.”

This included a lot more than Down Syndrome babies, of course, but the principal was always the same. A child born otherwise than “normal” was a freak and a scandal and should be destroyed.

And the mothers hated it. And they knew that if they not only converted to Christianity but converted their husbands as well, the husband’s would be required to let the “defective” kids live.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and we find ourselves in a world where the need to get rid of “defective” children seems barely to have abated.

In Sierra Leone, a baby with Down Syndrome is a “devil’s child” and killed. In China, all women must undergo tests to determine if the child has Down and must abort if it does.

In Denmark and Iceland, there’s no requirement that women get the test or that they abort if a test comes back positive, but 80% to 85% get the test and nearly 100% abort if the test comes back positive.

The Danish government has expressed itself very happy that Denmark is on track to “eliminate” Down Syndrome in the not too distant future.

This sort of thing—defective people! better off dead!—would drive me crazy no matter who was being targeted, but targeting Down Syndrome children is especially egregious. Unlike a lot of genetic disorders—Tay Sachs, say, or sickle cell—Down Syndrome is not passed down from one generation to the next. It’s a copying error. Two Down Syndrome people could produce a child without the condition, and have.

And here I get to be happy about us. Or at least happier than I am with the rest of the world at the moment.

It’s not that we don’t abort Down Syndrome children because they have Down Syndrome. We do. Something like 67% of all women in the United States who have prenatal tests that come back positive for down Syndrome abort.

But it’s 67%, not close to 100%.

And we’re full of accommodations and programs and initiatives meant to help people with Down to live good lives and to convince people without it that a life with Down is worth living.

The Gerber baby this year has Down. There are child models with Down. My small town has a grocery store that hires Down Syndrome adults as baggers. They earn their own money and live in a state sponsored group home. They’re even encouraged and enabled to vote.

Yes, yes. I know. We could spend more money on this. The programs could cover more people. Blah blah blah.

The fact is that we don’t view them as devil children and we don’t treat them as better off dead.

And that’s exactly as it ought to be.

Oh. P.S. As to the last post.

Yes, of course, there would be dogs other than Samoyeds. I’m just partial to Samoyeds.

And I’ve had cats all my life, too, and I’d expect cats to be included—but Pope Francis didn’t mention them.


Written by janeh

July 9th, 2018 at 10:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to '11 Better Off Dead'

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  1. The “better off dead” thing is something that is very close to my heart and something that makes me want to disconnect from my culture, if that were possible. At one time, attitudes towards and provisions for the disabled were increasing steadily, and I was optimistic that it would continue. Now I’m not. Just for context – my brother had cerebral palsy, although it wasn’t initially diagnosed, and the doctors thought he had a degenerative neurological condition. He died at 44 – eventually, an infection killed him, and by that time his physical condition meant that it was just a matter of time before that happened. He was sent home to die as an toddler, but he graduated from university and even held down a job for a few years until his health declined. I’ll never know all the details of how my parents and he battled so that he could have a decent life. I know they got the “better off dead” from lay acquaintances and medical professionals alike. I know it was a battle to get him the care and education any other child could get. And things did improve over time, for him and others, although it was never enough. Now, we’re sliding backwards. His life was short and difficult, but it was better than being dead – and he’d have lost over 40 years if those early doctors had been right.

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Samoyed – I have a very vague memory of seeing one once, big fluffy white dog, and at the time I was into crafts so I was intrigued by the information that Samoyed hair – unless I’m confusing them with another dog – can be spun into yard which is unusual because dog fur lacks the characteristics of sheep wool. Now, if only someone could figure out how to spin cat hair, I could go into the blanket business. I swear, if Cinnamon goes to her reward before I go to mine, the next cat (I like to have two at a time) will be shorthaired. Cinnamon is a beautiful, pleasant cat, but she sheds far too much.

    Insurance is a good thing. There are frequent ads on the TV shows I watch (I must watch Old People’s Channels” for supplementary insurance for Canadians, as if anyone alive didn’t realize that the provincial medicare organizations don’t cover everything. People who haven’t been there probably don’t realize just HOW expensive some drugs can be, but they sure know they have to pay for any drugs except those administered while they’re in hospital, unless they have insurance or are poor enough to qualify for a subsidy. In my province you have to be extremely poor to qualify for a “drug card” as it’s called, but I’ve got insurance through work and extra private insurance I kept on after I left the job that enabled me to get in that group program. Some people have told me I pay too much in insurance. I don’t think so.


    9 Jul 18 at 1:39 pm

  2. Well….duh?

    Yes, ideas have consequences. And giving up on the idea of people being made in the image of God has fairly predictable consequences. Every “progressive” movement for more than a century has some sort of eugenics program, if only for reasons of economy. I can remember being berated in college with the high US infant mortality rate compared with the German Democratic Republic. Not mentioned in the tirade was that any child born below a certain weight was reclassified as biological waste and dumped still breathing in a bucket for disposal. You get a MUCH lower infant mortality rate if you decide preemies aren’t people. Cheaper that way, too.

    I think, taking the long view, Marxism is the anomaly–people who have abandoned Christianity and Judaism, but still formally insist on a human equality they can’t give a reason for. It’s Nietzsche who has reasoned more carefully from first principles, which is why all the revolutionary states right of left come to resemble Nazi Germany.

    Christian socialism would be a different thing, and sometimes is while it lasts. But Christian socialists need to be careful of their company.


    11 Jul 18 at 9:50 am

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