Friday, October 18, 2013

Abortion and the Disabled

This morning I visited my young friend Victoria in the children's hospital in Halifax. Victoria was born with several disabilities, many of which have been managed through surgery. She will turn eight at the end of this month and she has a very good life. 

Much of that is owing to her marvellous parents, who will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to improve Victoria's life. And much is owing to the medical staff at the Isaac Walton Killam hospital who works tirelessly to make life more comfortable for Victoria during her more-than-one-month-long stay at the IWK. And much is owed to the wonderful surgeons who performed three 12-hour surgeries on Victoria, inserting new rods to help correct the scoliosis in her back.

When I popped in this morning, there was a note on Victoria's door that she was in the Developmental Gym, doing physical therapy. I decided to go and find her there. Visitors seem to be welcomed everywhere, unless there is need for completely hygienic conditions such as the intensive care unit. So I pushed open the door and found Victoria on a treadmill, getting her legs walking for 2 three-minute intervals, while two physiotherapists were on hand. Then she was put into a sledge, a new piece of equipment that will enable her to play hockey once the rinks are in full swing. Her older sister will also be shown how to use the equipment so that she can play with Victoria.

Then we went to the play room on Victoria's floor where about 6 children were playing, each with their own nurse. Victoria is a pro at air hockey and I got into the game with her. People came and went, everyone greeting each other since patients often meet here and then go their separate ways after therapy or appointments with specialists.

Every child was disabled. I only know Victoria's case in some detail; but one young child, who looked about 18 months old, was playing with the baby toys while hooked up to various tubes on an IV pole. Another boy in a power wheel chair like Victoria's watched as she played and wanted to know how old she was. He seemed pleased to know she was just 2 days older than himself and they will both celebrate a birthday soon. They must have been roommates at birth as well, since both were born here in this hospital.

Every one of these children is loved and cared for, by their families and by the staff at the hospital. Yet on the very same floor, parents are given a diagnosis of disability in their unborn child, and they are encouraged to abort.

How long can we live with this psychic split?  Once these kids are born, we won't stop at anything to improve their lives, but when they are in the womb, we would dismiss them readily and support their parents to do just that.

We can't have it both ways. Either we protect life, both in the womb and once it has emerged, or we don't.  It cannot be left to "being wanted". Because then we can change the parameters any time we feel like it.

If we decide who gets to live and who doesn't, then no one is safe.

I do not mean to downplay the enormous work that a disabled child is for its family. But we have many systems in motion to help people with those things. We can't continue to help some and terminate others whom we choose. We, as a society, would be trying to live with a mental disorder that surely threatens to tear us apart. Schizophrenics do not fare well, unless managed with heavy medication. We are schizophrenics when it comes to the disabled members of our species and we need to reconcile our heads with our hearts.

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