Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on '...as long as it's healthy.'

This post was originally blogged at the Failed Atheist.

There is a common saying popular in Western culture when talking about the birth or scheduled scan of a child. It can arise in a number of different contexts but usually amounts to something like ‘…as long as it’s healthy’.

What does this mean? I don’t think people necessarily mean it in some sinister eugenic sense but what it means is that their child we be loved only if they are healthy. It places a condition on whether that child will be welcomed into the world and loved. I’ve heard it from so many people that it seems accurate to state that it’s culturally ingrained in our subconscious view of  the unborn child. A healthy child is a welcomed child whilst an unhealthy child is not, after-all in a culture of cost-benefit analysis an unhealthy child will just drain our resources right?

What’s wrong with ‘…as long as it’s healthy’? I can think of a number of reasons why we should stop saying it. There is nothing wrong in preferring a healthy child, I think most people can agree that we would prefer that our child was healthy than not. But that sentiment is not being portrayed in the saying, it goes much further than that by implying that an unhealthy child potentially won’t be loved by their parents and may be better off not being born. A parents love is meant to be unconditional but we have such a low cultural view of disability and poor health that it encourages our love for such children to be tentative and conditional. There is subtle yet pervasive pressure to only bring a healthy child into the world, this is why we have the scale of prenatal screening and diagnosis that we do, it is simply cheaper to diagnose and dispose of an unhealthy child before they’re born. Infanticide is still frowned upon here (for now), unlike the Netherlands and their Groningen protocol.

This is not a normal way to view ones children but part of a dehumanizing culture that has made an idol out of health and well being. We have trouble understanding that someone who may be in poor health or have a disability can be happy, our assumption is that those things equal a sub-par human existence which is not necessarily true. You do not need to be a healthy human being to be a good, influential or heroic one, just check out these people, Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller, Jean-Dominique Bauby and Christy Brown as just a few examples of this.

To unconditionally love someone is to say that it’s good they exist. A humans dignity isn’t based in their talents and abilities but in their shared human nature. This is the Christian view of human value, we all share equal dignity grounded in being made in the image of God, and not because of how intelligent or physically able we may be. We should thus welcome all human beings into the world we share together, regardless of their health or abilities. When we keep repeating statements like ‘as long as it’s healthy’ we are partaking in an idea that implicitly intends not to welcome certain human beings into the world. Of course I understand that caring for a child who isn’t healthy may be challenging but we can make it easier by creating a culture where all humans are welcome and not only those who meets societal standards of normalcy. I therefore suggest that we stop saying ‘…as long as it’s healthy.’.

After writing this I discovered other people have also written about this, both from a Secular and Christian perspective, both very helpful for further reading.

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