On Nov. 19, 2012, Timothy and Ashlyn Tebeau gave birth to a precious baby girl they named Ella Grace. The Rincon couple was understandably ecstatic to welcome their first child into the world. Soon after the delivery, a nurse mentioned that the medical staff wanted to perform a few tests. Then came a diagnosis for which they were unprepared – Down’s syndrome.
Of course, this was not on the young couple’s radar or in their plans. But, they made an immediate and important decision. They would take this diagnosis in stride. After all, they had each other and a beautiful baby girl. Timothy and Ashlyn would love little Ella Grace unconditionally, and wouldn’t look back or remain stuck in what might have been. Life would be a bit different, not worse or better, just different. And they stepped up to meet the challenges because that’s what loving parents do.
And there would be challenges. They’d have to accept the probability of a shorter expected life span than most children, and Ella Grace would likely have a whole host of health issues needing continual medical care. And, of course, there would be cognitive difficulties and the possibility of social ostracism. Nonetheless, this young couple committed themselves to making sure their baby girl would be bathed in love. Indeed, that is exactly what has happened as Ella Grace has become a beautiful, vibrant two-year old that seems to soak up and thrive on all the love showered upon her.
So, while raising a child with Down’s syndrome was not in the Tebeaus’ plans, they decided to become the parents they felt God wanted them to become.
And the payoff has been significant. What Timothy and Ashlyn have found is that, despite the temporary challenges and struggles, there has also been a sense of joy so profound they have come to consider Ella Grace an incredible gift.
Now, with that inspiring local story in mind, it may be a bit depressing for you to learn that the majority of unborn children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in utero are aborted. It’s difficult to get accurate numbers on such things, but according to a review of studies performed between 1995 and 2011, health care researchers put the number somewhere between 60 and 90 percent. What is even more surprising is that couples say they make the decision to abort their special-needs child after consultation with their physician.
When I think of the Tebeaus, their experiences, and the statistics above, two things come to mind. The first is this: Technology may have outpaced our ability to ethically use it.
It is wonderful that medical advancements have been so dramatic that we can identify more and more medical problems prior to birth. That will enable health care practitioners to best prepare for the care needed.
But here is the concern: Have we now gotten to the point where that technology can be used to rid society of characteristics somehow deemed “imperfect”? And what are the determinants of such “imperfection”? If a child will have very serious medical problems? If so, who decides what is very serious? If a child will have some predictable medical problems (as in Down’s Syndrome)? If the child will have a low I.Q.? Or undesirable eye or hair color? Heck, diabetes? Asthma? I mean, where is the end? Has abortion transitioned in practice from a method of birth control to a method of life control, where we have the ability to delete from our life anything we might find unfavorable?
In addition, where does the right to an abortion end and the right of a child to fight for life — to not be discriminated against because of a disease — begin? And discrimination is not too strong a word. Ashlyn is expecting their second child this November. When she had a recent genetic test, those relating the “normal” results to her implied that she could now breathe a sigh of relief — as if an imperfect child (or even two) would be a catastrophe. “People just don’t know, and need to be educated. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”, Ashlyn recounts. I’m sure Ashlyn and Timothy could surprise us all with descriptions of what a child with Down’s syndrome can do. Ignorance often leads to discrimination, doesn’t it?
Technology may have indeed outpaced our ability to understand how it can be applied ethically. Please understand that I am not arguing against Roe v Wade (at least not here). I am saying, rather, that the slope upon which it rests has indeed become slippery, and society has not yet gained its footing.
Second, if you are incensed that Down’s syndrome can be used as the sole reason to abort a child, then you have friends in Ohio. This fall, citizens of Ohio will vote to ban abortions on the basis of a Down’s syndrome diagnosis.
Ohio would be the second state to ban such procedures; North Dakota recently banned abortions for any “genetic abnormalities.” Shouldn’t Georgia be next?
Doubtful much will be done to change Roe v Wade anytime in the near future. But what we can do, however, is ensure that technology enhances our understanding of the issues involved in abortion, and in doing so, makes us more humane, not less.
In the meantime, you go, Ella Grace! You go, girl.