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Genetic Testing and Lives Worth Living

Imagine you and your spouse find out you’re expecting. Having experienced this moment a few times, I know there’s nothing quite like it. Your world changes, and within days, your child’s entire biography unfolds in your mind: her first steps, first words, kindergarten, little league, ballet, high school, college, and eventually a young adult who will make you insanely proud. It’s all so promising.

But for thousands of parents every year, that’s when the “bad news” comes.

You find out your child has been diagnosed in utero with a serious medical condition or disability. All of your dreams for her fall to pieces. As more conditions are identified by prenatal tests, the more parents there are that face this scenario.

Then the friendly suggestions begin: “No one would choose that kind of life.” “She’ll never be happy.” “No one would blame you for ending it.” For many parents, the suggestions turn to pressure: “It’s irresponsible.” “You’re creating a burden.” “You’re being selfish.”

Having talked with parents of children with disability, I can tell you this tragedy plays out all too often. The pressure to have “perfect” children is immense. And when the moment of decision comes, a shocking percentage of families go along with the culture — and end a life they’ve been told isn’t worth living.

This is why almost 90 percent of children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are aborted. During an interview last year with Joni Eareckson Tada, she shared with me her alarm over what might happen if a prenatal test became available for autism, especially since 1 in 80 children are now diagnosed with it.

Neither autism nor Down syndrome are deadly, and we have overwhelming evidence that children born with these conditions can lead loving, fulfilling lives.

But the impulse to prevent “defective” children from being born targets more victims in our society than just the mentally challenged. Increasingly, genetic technology is allowing us to peer decades into a person’s future, diagnosing diseases which may not manifest or impair someone until well into adulthood or middle age.

Women who carry the BRCA2 mutation, the “breast cancer gene,” for example, may have their unborn daughters screened for the mutation. If they turn up positive, abortion may be on the table.

Then there’s cystic fibrosis, a so-far incurable lung condition whose victims commonly live into their thirties — go to college, get married, and on and on. But with prenatal testing now available for this disease, increasing numbers of children in utero with CF are aborted — one limited study showed as many as 16 out of 17!

In Montana, one couple recently received the green light from a federal judge to sue their doctors for the so-called “wrongful birth” of their daughter. The little girl was born with cystic fibrosis, and according the couple, should have been killed in the womb, and would have, if testing revealed her condition.

What we’re seeing is not isolated cases of moral failing. It’s a culture that values human life based on usefulness and perfection, and targets for extinction those deemed too weak, too expensive, or too inconvenient.

As embryologist and in-vitro pioneer Robert Edwards predicted chillingly in the late '90s, “Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of a genetic disease. We are entering a world,” he said, “where we have to consider the quality of our children.”

That, my friends, is frightening and appalling.

So let me give you a tip: If you want a perfect child, don’t get pregnant. Every single son of Adam and daughter of Eve (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis) is broken in some respect. Some of us more than others. But we’re also made in the image of God, and so, as Lewis wrote elsewhere “you have never met a mere mortal.”

Who are we to judge whose life is worth living? The one true Judge has already spoken. And He said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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