Throwing Stones

I read this article on CNN.com a couple of weeks ago:  “Twin baby girls rescued as China maternity hospital trafficking probe continues.”  Apparently, there’s at least one obstetrician at this hospital who has lied to new parents for years that their babies are dead or have congenital defects or a fatal disease.  The OB convinced the parents to leave the babies at the hospital and just go home.  Once the parents left, the doctor sold the babies.

The story is horrifying to begin with and what I imagine is in the top three of parental nightmares.  Something about this story stuck in my brain and nagged at me.  The CNN article makes it clear that the loss of their children devastated the parents, but I thought about my friends who are parents.  I know that they wouldn’t leave their baby with congenital defects or a fatal disease at the hospital and go home.  It troubled me how effective the doctor’s use of defect or disease was in making the parents in China go home.

Then I remembered a time when a friend, A, told me she was pregnant.  Because of her age, the doctor considered A’s pregnancy to be high-risk

and ordered the usual round of prenatal testing.  A said that if it turned out the baby was “not ok,” she and her husband would “try again.”  I understood and sympathized in an instant, but I was also shocked.

We all want our children to be “perfect.”  Nobody dreams of having a special needs son or daughter.  I think the issue is even harder in China, where you’re only allowed to have one child, and where that child is an integral part of your retirement plan as elderly parents depend on their children for support.  The culture is changing, though.  In the past, the elderly were respected and revered; the needs of the young were prioritized after the needs of the old.  With increasing wealth and the one child policy, the focus has shifted to the young, giving rise to what one HR executive I spoke with called the “strawberry” generation:  very pretty and very delicate.  Recently, the Chinese government passed a law requiring sons and daughters to visit their parents at least once per year.  I almost cried when I read that article.

I still don’t know what to think about the decision to “try again.”  I’ve never been pregnant much less had genetic testing done on the fetus I’m carrying.  I’ve never had to decide whether it was best for the child to be born.  I don’t know what I’d do if a prenatal exam showed that my baby had a “defect.”  Is my heart big enough to accept a child that’s not “perfect”?  I’m pretty selfish, so probably not.  At the same time, I’ve witnessed and read countless stories of the contributions of special needs children and adults.  Families of special needs kids seem to have a special closeness, a deeper understanding of the things that matter in life.  They’re not saints, just “normal” people with an abnormal appreciation for joy.

It also makes me think about what constitutes a “defect.”  In China, the one child policy plus an Asian preference for boys has made being a girl a de facto defect:  female fetuses are aborted, and newborn girls are literally thrown away.  Fundamentalist Christians might argue that being homosexual is a defect.  Tall men experience more success in life than short men do, so you could argue that being short is a defect.  Good looking, slender people get paid more – being ugly and/or fat is a defect.  There’s research showing that the brain structure and chemistry of some psychopathic criminals is different and detectable – defect.

It seems like children who aren’t “normal” get labeled as defective.  “Wrong” kind of autism, the kind that got one family a letter from a neighbor saying that they should kill their autistic child and distribute the organs to “normal” children?  Defect.  Throwing tantrums in public?  Defect.  Crying too much on a plane?  Defect.  Doesn’t walk or talk as quickly as the next child?  Defect.  Only average?  Defect.

It’s a slippery slope, and I’ve exaggerated.  Science is neutral, agnostic, but its advancements enable us to make scary, permanent judgments about things that may seem small but are actually large.  I wonder if we’re headed for Gattaca, and if we are, who has the omniscience or omnipotence or wisdom to make society utopian rather than dystopian.  This whole post proves that I definitely and obviously don’t.  It’s a good reminder from the universe that I need to work harder to be less righteously indignant, to refuse tiny rage, to be more understanding and use my heart in addition to my head.  I wish these were easier lessons for me to learn.

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