Perfect Imperfections

We are a society moved by anecdotes. For the past few decades, every American president, whether Republican or Democrat, has sprinkled special guests around the House chamber during his State of the Union speech. These guests are meant to tug at our heartstrings (they do) and, incidentally, highlight something positive about the administration or emotionally promote a policy the administration is pushing. I understand this. I, too, respond more to stories than I do to statistics and graphs.

October, which starts next week, is Down Syndrome awareness month. We can view heartwarming videos and stories starring children with this syndrome and their families, highlighting the gifts these children have brought to the world. We can also find heart-wrenching accounts of expectant parents facing the knowledge that their future baby would be born with this chromosomal challenge and making the heart-breaking decision to abort.

I’d like to try to move away from the emotional battleground and from the individual decisions people make. I would like to discuss what effect it has on a society, when that society subtly—and not so subtly—discourages having “imperfect” babies.

There are countries such as Iceland where almost no children with Down syndrome are being born. It is not true to say that in those countries parents are provided with information, but that whether to abort or not is their personal decision. Each word spoken by medical personnel while dealing with people receiving an emotionally impactful diagnosis exerts tremendous pressure. Those words, along with body language and tone, can make parents feel that an “imperfect” child is a tragedy or that this child is a blessing who has a particular difficulty that they can name. Whether parents are filled with hope or despair has less to do with the results of a test and more with the support or lack of it that they receive. Being assured of society’s acceptance or expecting society’s censure plays a role as well.

Down Syndrome is unique in our ability to test for it relatively inexpensively at an early stage of pregnancy. Information on gender is also available and, unless we stick our heads in the sand, we know that some babies are aborted because the wondrous way their X and Y chromosomes were created doesn’t match the selfish desires of their mothers and/or fathers. But science is advancing while our moral development seems to be regressing.

We are in the period that ancient Jewish wisdom tells us is the time of year when God judges each of us as individuals as well as judging nations. One of the haunting passages we recite during these days asks about the coming year, “How many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die?”

We are also told that God judges us as we judge others. Do we grant people the benefit of the doubt or do we jump to assume the worst? Do we expect perfection from our loved ones or do we recognize that all human beings make mistakes? Are we quick to punish those who hurt us or do we give them a second chance? As He judges us, God follows our example.

There is no such thing as a perfect baby, child, or adult. Some imperfections are easier to see than others and some can be detected in utero while others only reveal themselves after decades. There are physical defects and spiritual ones. What an appropriate time of year this is to make sure that our words or glances don’t make anyone feel that the life of his or her child is anything but a blessing.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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