The Debate of My Life

by Caleb Jones
October 5, 2010

How should a person respond when he finds the pros and cons of his very existence being debated? I found myself in this position as I read this article about a mother, who, having asked for donations for her child with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary genetic disease, was rebuked by one of her neighbors. The neighbor responded with disgust, saying, "There's no need for you to keep having these children. There’s a test for that, you know." Apparently widespread is the viewpoint that children with cystic fibrosis are deadweights on society and that civilization would be better if this problem had been avoided from the start with prenatal testing and pregnancy termination. Many apparently believe it would be better if these children never lived.

I am one of the 30,000 Americans who live with cystic fibrosis, and it is difficult to describe adequately how I felt after reading this. On one hand, I have never heard this sentiment verbalized in my presence. I was never told that I should not have been born; rather, understanding and support are typically what I feel from others. In that sense, the specter of insult and degradation is far from me. But the whispers of strangers and the feelings behind words spoken reveal much. Virtually no one will say that a group should be killed because of their handicap or condition, but many will insist that prenatal testing provides women useful information to be used to exercise the right over their own bodies. No one openly advocates the elimination of certain populations, yet it happens nonetheless. It is already happening to those with Down’s syndrome. In the aforementioned article, I find that it is probably happening to those with cystic fibrosis, too.

This article resonates with me for reasons other than my diagnosis. The high school American History class I teach is currently studying World War II and the rise of fascism in Germany, an episode in which the value of entire populations was predetermined, the problem they posed to society was identified, and an ultimate solution enacted. Such a comparison may seem far-fetched in a time free of Nazis, brown shirts, and kristallnachts. But as Elie Weisel warned, tanks and guns and anger and hatred are secondary evils. Blitzkriegs and concentration camps are all visible and prompt fierce resistance. True evil festers and matures to sometimes terrifying power under the shadow of indifference. And indifference is the sickness that infects our culture today and breeds the sentiment of that callous neighbor.

With prenatal testing, nearly ninety-percent fewer souls with Down’s syndrome are brought into the world today. But none of them were cured. They were purged from society, and society remained silent and indifferent. Indifference is bred because the evil is unseen. There are no coffins or mass graves for those deemed unworthy of the monetary or emotional expense required to care for them. There are only trashcans and medical waste facilities waiting for those who are forgotten and disposed. Feigned sensitivity to their humanity is too often brushed away by the simple line, ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ Under this guise, evil can grow.

Evil like this does not emerge spontaneously. It starts with an idea that sprouts and develops in the minds of men. In Weimar Germany, the idea of Jews as an annoyance came first. That was anti-Semitism. Then, Jews became a problem to be fixed. That was discrimination and oppression. Then, they were an enemy of the state to be eliminated. That was the Holocaust. Presently, unwanted pregnancies of all stripes are considered annoyances. Taking root is the belief that these annoyances are problems to be fixed. With the health of the country becoming more and more a responsibility and an expenditure of government, how many intermediate steps are necessary for expensive populations (e.g. those with cystic fibrosis or Down’s syndrome) to become de facto enemies of the state?

How should a person respond when he finds the value of his very existence being debated? By fighting like his life depends on it. While the debate itself is demeaning, at least it remains a debate. In this debate, in this fight, the battlefield resides in the ideas of men. I will fight the evil idea of human beings' value being weighed based on their contribution to society, and uphold the inherent and unalienable worth and dignity of simply being human. Ideas matter; they have serious consequences. I will fight to bring this evil to the light and halt the indifference that silence brings. Evil ideas must be fought with the seriousness they warrant. I have chosen my side in this battle. I suggest you choose yours.

A 2008 Government alumnus from Patrick Henry College, Caleb Jones served as one of the elected speakers at his Commencement exercises. Since then, he has been working on a graduate degree and teaching in high school.