I am writing this blog within a few hours of the release of the Women and Equalities Committee report on abortion law in Northern Ireland. The day before I had occasion to reread two stories which have significantly impacted the development of my thinking on this crucial subject and I would like to share them with you.
The first story appears in J.John’s highly popular book “Ten” (2000). He recounts how some medical students were attending a seminar on abortion where the lecturer presented them with a case study. “The father of the family had syphilis and the mother tuberculosis. They already had four children. The first child is blind, the second died, the third is deaf and dumb and the fourth has tuberculosis. Now the mother is pregnant with her fifth child. She is willing to have an abortion, if that is what you as her doctor suggests”.
So what would your advice be? The medical students overwhelmingly voted to terminate the pregnancy. The lecturer’s response, “Congratulations, you have just murdered the famous composer Ludwig Van Beethoven!”
My second story comes from David Gooding and John Lennox’s book “Being Truly Human” (2018). At the outset they outline a scenario in the future in which government-controlled geneticists decree that only “normal” foetuses should be allowed to be born. They then ask the question by what standard would they define normal? Would they for example allow a future Helen Keller to be born? She was both blind and deaf and yet triumphed over her twin disabilities becoming an inspiration to thousands.
Gooding and Lennox go on to highlight that many of our greatest musicians and artists have been less than 100% emotionally. So if these future geneticists were able to read the genes and tell that such foetuses, if born, would suffer emotional maladjustment, would they order them to be aborted, thereby not only deprive them of life but (unknowingly) rob the world and future generations of their brilliant and enriching talent?
How fortunate, even blessed, we have been that the likes of Beethoven and Helen Keller were given the opportunity to live lives that mattered and enriched the lives of millions of other people around the globe, across the generations and over the decades.
But what of the future, will this continue to be the case? Or will we look back at a period in time and say of that time, both lives mattered?