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RealChoice

When The Future Looks Bleak

I once attended a workshop with a bright, articulate woman who had a bone to pick with doctors. When she was born, her parents were told to put her in an institution. She'd be a "drooling vegetable," they were told. She'd never walk, never talk, never think. Zeta was blind, and she walked with a leg brace, but there was nothing at all wrong with her mind. And I ate lunch with her every day of the workshop -- I can vouch for the fact that she didn't drool any more than most lunchtime companions do.

I had a co-worker who actually did spend most of his childhood in an institution. He was presumed to be retarded. At least that's what all the doctors thought. But Ray got in trouble with the powers that be -- while he was living in the institution for profoundly retarded children, he taught himself to read and enrolled in correspondence school. He got caught sitting in a closet late at night with a flashlight, working on his GED. None of this changed the doctors' minds about Ray. They took his books away and monitored his mail and ordered every possible interference with Ray's failure to stick with the prescribed rehabilitation plan. But Ray wasn't the least bit retarded. In fact, he's a brilliant man. He just has cerebral palsy. When he turned 18 he went to court, sued for his freedom, and got a job as an advocate for the disabled.

Doctors are great at making predictions. They're just not necessarily great at making accurate predictions. And therein lies the rub. If doctors can be so wrong about children that are sitting on the exam table, children that they can poke and prod and test and examine, how can they always be right about children they're examining in utero?

Because pro life folks balk at prenatal exams and abortions based on in utero diagnoses, we're painted as monsters. Don't we understand the anguish of a woman facing a grim diagnosis for her unborn baby? As a matter of fact, we do. We also understand how often the doctors can be wrong. We oppose putting mothers through the nightmarish ordeal of being asked to choose, "Shall we kill your baby now, or would you prefer to watch him die an agonizing death later?" A diagnosis can be wrong -- there might be nothing at all wrong with the baby. And even if the diagnosis is correct, the prognosis can be wrong. A "doomed" baby can turn out to be a joy to his parents, if given the chance.

Yes, we're concerned about the unborn baby. We want to see him have a chance at life. But we're also concerned about the mother. We don't see any kindness in the "Sophie's Choice" scenario where women are asked to choose between two hideous alternatives. We advocate supporting women through the difficult period of uncertainty. We advocate access to the best of medical and rehabilitative care for all children, regardless of their parent's income or insurance. We advocate help for parents of children with special needs, so that they're not overwhelmed with the additional tasks of caring for a child with pysical or mental problems. And we advocate compassionate, blame-free adoption or domicilliary care placement for children whose parents are unable to care for them. We want every mother to have the chance to meet her child, to learn his abilities and limitations. We want every mother to be given the opportunity to offer her child the best in life, be that in her home, in a professionally-operated residential setting, or in an adoptive family capable of adapting to the demands of a special-needs child.

Even if your doctor's predictions are accurate 99% of the time, if your child is the one child in a hundred where he's wrong, the stakes are high. Your child's very life is hanging in the balance. If he's wrong, your child has lost a lifetime, and you have lost your child. That's too high a price to pay.

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