Eliminating imperfections

To do so, we need not eliminate people with disability

IMAGE: WALL STREET JOURNAL

Imagine a world without disability. A world without paralysis, congenital cardiac defects, cancer-induced amputations, short-sightedness, psychological problems. Imagine a world without Down’s syndrome, or albinism. Imagine a world devoid of the whole spectrum of blemishes that detract from an otherwise perfect human design. It would be an excellent world, wouldn’t it? And everyone would be happy, right? It is at once a fantastic and alluring vision, isn’t it?

Now imagine a human race without the disabled. For instance, imagine a world without your aunt whose left eye cannot see. Or your cousin who cannot string two words together without stammering. Your uncle who walks with a limp. You friend who uses a wheelchair. The mischievous-looking young girl with Down’s syndrome who accompanies her mother to your parish for Mass every morning. Your classmate, who is short-sighted and uses lenses so thick they would crush an elephant.

You cannot imagine it, or can you? When you bring in the people who bear the marks of disability on their bodies, the whole equation changes. It becomes no longer a matter of disability, but of people. Real, breathing people with whom you have experienced the world. You realise, the burden they may have been notwithstanding, the joy they have contributed to your own life, the moments you have shared with them, are much more valuable than their absence ever could.

Try as you might, you cannot imagine a world without them. Apart from that, you come to the sobering realisation that the vast majority of human beings have one disability or another, or a marvelous concoction of them. Imperfections are everywhere. Only a minority, a representative of whom you have never met in person, can lay claim to having an ideal body.

And yet, a long-standing and growing movement in the West is opening more doors for the killing of babies whose defects are detected before they are born. Aborting a baby with Down’s syndrome or some other congenital defect has been presented as a way to spare the baby the suffering it would have to live with if it were born; and sparing the parents and society the stress of handling such a burden.

It makes the assumption that healthy kids cannot suffer. Which is not true. They could get an accident, or fall seriously ill or some other thing could happen. And then they would suffer for it, for the rest of their lives perhaps. The other apparent assumption is that taking care of children or people with defects is just a burden. Which is not entirely true. It is certainly burdensome, but also carries enormous emotional and intellectual rewards, which can be attested to by anyone who has ever taken care of such a person.

But that is not all. The unstated undercurrent is the heedless quest for a world without imperfection, at all costs. Eliminating imperfection is a noble end. Otherwise all our scientific, technological and economic progress would be senseless. But the means falls short. Aborting kids with defects does not eliminate the defect. It eliminates people. People who are as worthy of life as the most perfect among us. To eliminate it this way, we will have to eliminate people for as long as they have these defects, which means forever. As we go along, the definition of imperfection will widen, netting in more and more various people.

And, ultimately, however much we progress, our world will never eliminate imperfection. It is part of what the world is. It is woven into the texture of our very existence. However much we work, we will not eliminate suffering without destroying the world. Which means we should have limits.

This is not a call to pessimism. It is rather an exhortation to a more comprehensive appreciation of the world, and the realization that true happiness does not consist in never experiencing or witnessing pain, but in accepting it as an intimate component of the human experience.

Luckily, over here in Africa, respect for human life is still strong. One can only hope it holds against the avalanche of progressive propaganda which is currently being unleashed upon the continent from the same West.

Mathew Otieno is a student at the University of Nairobi.


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