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07 October 2016

A world without imperfection

A world without imperfection

Dawn McAvoy is a researcher and administrator at the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland. In the coming months she will be part of a campaign that seeks to reframe the debate on abortion around the simple concept that both lives matter.

Did you watch A World without Down’s Syndrome, presented and co-written by actress Sally Phillips, this week? I did and, to be honest, although it wasn’t easy viewing, it was compelling.  

Sally shared her own experiences of being mum to Olly, an 11-year-old boy who happens to have Down’s Syndrome. Her love for her son and her pride in him was evident, but this wasn’t just about one family’s story, it was a challenge to society and an invitation to have a not-so-small debate.  

As science and technology advance, who decides which life is worthy of living and what does that mean for all of us?  

Maternal healthcare is sitting within a system where the development of genetic screening offers more prenatal information than ever before. But as was said to me this week, “god-like knowledge requires god-like responsibility”. So what do we do with that information and are any of us ready for that responsibility?  

There was a lot of talk about informed choice, but the right to choose doesn’t necessarily provide for equality of choice. The programme revealed worrying levels of bias towards terminating for fetal abnormality among medical professionals and a subsequent lack of support for those who choose to continue with their pregnancy. One mother talked about the need to be protected from the pressure and expectation to abort. Another mother who had chosen to abort when she received a diagnosis of Down’s said she wanted better for her child. The principles of choice and aspirations of perfection seem to reign.  

Pre-natal screening is encouraged and a culture of termination has developed. Genetic screening has been offered for over 30 years, and currently 90 per cent of Down’s diagnosed babies are aborted in England and Wales. The new Non Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) offers a nearly 100 per cent accuracy of diagnosis, and where it has been introduced terminations have increased.  

Sally Phillips was asked during the programme what she expected would happen to her son when she was no longer there to care for him, framed within the context of him being a burden. She said if there was no one to care for him, that was a problem with society, not her son; the answer wasn’t to terminate his life.  

Scripture warns of a time when everyone does what is right in their own eyes; but I know that God is both truth and love and I am called to more than my own understanding. James 1:27 tells me that pure and faultless religion is caring for the most vulnerable; but who is that and what does compassion look like? In carrying another’s burden I am told I fulfil God's law. 

When a woman is told, either pre- or post-birth, that her child has a disability or serious illness, her reaction to that information is determined to some degree by how she is told by the medical profession.  

And our reaction is also crucial whether as a family member or a friend. Do we celebrate and welcome this new life? Do we empathise with them and commit to walk that road and help them carry their burden? Or do we stand back and say it’s your life, make your choice.  

Whatever we feel about screening and abortion as a choice, and however we attempt to grapple with all of the issues raised in the documentary, I know that when I claim Christ I can't exclude him from my response.  

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ Galatians 6:2.