“They used to say that a child conceived in love has a greater chance of happiness. They don’t say that anymore.”
-Vincent (Gattaca, 1997)
This week in the commissary I passed a mother and daughter in the frozen seafood section. Her daughter was probably 9, and by her facial structure I guessed she had Down Syndrome. I made sure to smile at her and wave (if I hadn’t had three kids in tow, I would have stopped to chat). You would think it normal to smile at people, but CBS reminded us that kids like the one I passed by are being murdered at an extraordinary rate.
Sadly, I’m not shocked at all. Before my daughter Rebecca was born, the doctors first detected a heart defect, and Yale offered to genetically screen her. We politely declined. Even with just a heart defect (at the time, they thought it was Ebstein’s Anomaly), the doctor, a top guy in his field, kept saying things like “…if you decide to keep the pregnancy.” I really liked the guy, but every time he said something like this, it sent a chill down my spine.
All children require their parents to sacrifice. You give up your freedom to have kids. Raising them is tough. Kids with serious disabilities are even tougher. While that challenge is hard, it is designed to make you tougher. Before Rebecca came, I couldn’t fathom a life with a kid with Down Syndrome. That was something that happened to other people. Her coming into this world made me have to rise to the occasion and become a better person.
Are kids with Down Syndrome more work? Yup. But so are kids with autism. And heart defects. And missing fingers. We act like these defects are reasons to end their lives, because they will make it difficult for those of us “normal” people. But are the “normal” people that much better? Last I checked, “normal” people cause most of the murders, rapes, theft and other crimes in the world. I don’t see people with Down Syndrome murdering others at some astronomical rate.
More importantly, to think that we are somehow not flawed is ludicrous. How is it not flawed to murder an innocent child? How can we claim to be so much more enlightened, yet we use science to separate people into boxes called “useful to society” and “trash?” And who determines the trash bin? We’ve had plenty of “genetically flawed” people make important contributions to our society.
An older sci-fi flick, the 1997 film “Gattaca,” seems to be a future prediction. The film follows a man who was conceived naturally, but his genetics predicted he wouldn’t live past 30. He manages to not only live past that age, but sneak into the space program, where he evades genetic scrutiny and eventually travels to Titan. The movie also shows plenty of other “genetically perfect” people who have either mental health issues or commit crimes.
Gattaca and Down Syndrome remind us that in our humanity we are not perfect, and that is OK. We’re not called to be genetically perfect, we’re called to live our lives as well as we can. Imperfect genetics call us to love more, not less, just as imperfect human beings call us to love them more.