Shock and anger rushed upon me when I read Jen Gann’s recent article in the New York magazine arguing that her son, Dudley, who has cystic fibrosis (CF), should have never been born. She says she should have instead been given a chance to abort him. Then I felt unmistakable sadness.
Gann’s article is about her effort to win a “wrongful death lawsuit” based on her son’s disease. Her child is alive, but the mother argues that due to failed prenatal testing that led her to believe her child was healthy, she was not afforded the chance to terminate her pregnancy, which she would have done if she had prior knowledge of his CF.
This mother’s story is quite personal to me because, I too, have a young child with cystic fibrosis. I can relate to the detailed description of her son’s daily breathing treatments, expensive medications, and the serious lung infections that ail those with CF.
How My Anger Turned Into Sadness
Additionally, as a pro-life Christian, you can imagine the frustration I felt when reading a mother lamenting the missed opportunity to abort her sick child. As one would imagine, I had an overwhelming desire to write a response that would refute every single one of her points, making a fool of her arguments and calling into question her credibility as mother and provider for her son.
But, as I read her story a second and a third time, I began to relate to her on the one item we could probably agree on—the fact that having a child with a severe illness is scary. For her, this fear seems to have manifested into anger. She writes about mothers (like me) who choose to give birth to a CF child, “The women who willingly made choices that were never presented to me and chose a child’s suffering: Sometimes I hate them. I also hate the women who were supposed to care for me. I hate the faceless people at the lab.”
I get the anger—I’ve been there. Angry that you can’t control the situation, angry that it’s happening to you, and angry that you can’t save your child from a life full of hardship and pain. But as negative as this mom sounds, I believe her anger comes from a place of love—love disordered, but love nonetheless.
Tim Keller explains it best when he says that, “Anger is actually a form of love. Anger is how we respond to whatever threatens someone or something we care about. How we perceive and respond to reality has to do with our love. If we want to know what we have to be angry about, we should look to the objects of our affection.”
I believe Gann’s anger at her son’s CF is the result of a disordered love, redirected away from Dudley as a person to a love only for his safety and health. It is subtle distinction, but when a mom wishes that her son’s life could have been ended to avoid disease, you have to wonder about misplaced affection.
Death Won’t Solve This Pain, Momma
She is scared about her son’s future, and I get it. I sympathize with her fears and anxiety, but the sad reality is that her conviction and lawsuit will not take that pain away. In the story, the mother recounts her conversation with Dortha Biggs, a mother of a daughter suffering from rubella, a terrible disease, who in 1975 successfully won a “wrongful death lawsuit.” When the author asked how she felt about the financial winnings, Dortha said, “It didn’t make [my daughter] well. It did not help her own pain.”
Regardless of where Gann is coming from, her lawsuit—and the belief behind it—threatens lasting damage to the disabled community. That belief says disability renders you subhuman, never to have been born.
This will send a message to the sickest among us that they are unwanted, a burden, and a failed opportunity to be terminated in the womb. I fear a stronger push for eugenics, to customize the “perfect” child in the womb and enforce our current cultural lie that to have the ideal American family you need to all look alike and healthy; no physical deformities are welcome.
Sadly, we’ve already seen this in Iceland, where earlier this year the country praised the fact that they’ve almost “eradicated the down syndrome births” by aborting babies with the gene to fit their society’s view of what a normal child is. This is beyond heartbreaking.
All People Are Worthy of Care and Love
As a Christian, my faith teaches me instead that every child with a disability bears the same marks of his or her Creator in whose image they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” meaning with an intent and the Creator’s seal of satisfaction. And every disability has a purpose.
In the Bible, Jesus’ disciples ask him who bears the responsibility for the blindness of a man they pass by. Jesus responds, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That man’s blindness had a purpose, and it was to reveal the glory of God.
My daughter’s CF has a purpose—that the works of a sovereign God may be displayed someway and somehow. Time will tell. I suspect that conviction will prompt the same emotions in Gann that her conviction did in me. But is there a higher view of disability? Perhaps amidst all the pain and the sorrow, never to be minimized, that comes with enduring a disability, there can also be the hope and comfort that when the God of the universe created my daughter he pronounced his handiwork good and purposeful.
My husband and I pray for our daughter’s health, but we pray more that as she grows up, that she will understand this truth and never turn back. It will hopefully convert any bitterness and anger to wonder and joy and ultimately faith. That is our prayer, and it’s now our prayer for Dudley Gann.
As a society, may we fight against the insidious belief that the sick and disabled are ultimately less worthy of life and instead come alongside to support them and point them to truth. It will transform them and us.