Hávamál & Aborting the Disabled

I am disturbed and angered by an article today in the National Review Online by Kathryn Lopez entitled Defining Life Down . The article discusses improvements in the ability to detect Down Syndrome in unborn babies during the first trimester of pregnancy and how parents are increasingly using that information to justify killing their unborn children with Down Syndrome.

As a child I was a stubborn learner and spent my second grade year of elementary school in a resource reading group. There were only three of us in the class. One was a sweet, innocent girl with Down Syndrome. I appreciate having been able to interact with this wonderful person as a peer.

I also had a cousin who, though she did not have Down Syndrome, was born with severe mental disabilities. Her problems were, in many ways, more severe than Down Syndrome. Some of my fondest Christmas-time memories are of arriving at my uncle’s home to visit with my cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. This special cousin was always seated in her favorite rocking chair in the front room, holding her Barbie doll, rocking back and forth, often singing and laughing, and greeting visitors. She passed away some years later, but she left an important mark and a treasured memory.

To think that people are destroying special people like my classmate and my cousin is sickening!

In the Poetic Edda1 there is a section entitled Hávamál2 (Sayings of the High One). Hávamál is a collection of guidelines for wise living attributed to the Norse God Odin. I am reminded of the following verses:

Betra er lifðum
og sællifðum.
Ey getur kvikur kú.
Eld sá eg upp brenna
auðgum manni fyrir,
en úti var dauður fyr durum.

Haltur ríður hrossi,
hjörð rekur handarvanur,
daufur vegur og dugir.
Blindur er betri
en brenndur sé:
Nýtur manngi nás.

It is better to live,
even to live miserably;
a living man
can always get a cow.
I saw fire consume
the rich man’s property,
and death stood without his door.

The halt can ride on horseback,
the one-handed drive cattle;
the deaf fight and be useful:
to be blind is better
than to be burnt:
no ones gets good from a corpse.

I know that I am an insufferable lover of the archaic and ancient, but I can’t help but feel that their understanding about life was superior to our own muddled, post-modern mess. I pray that we will repent as a society.

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5 Responses to Hávamál & Aborting the Disabled

  1. I add my prayer to yours.

    Thank you for bringing this into such stark relief through the Hávamál. That was very enlightening.

  2. by the way, i believe that god takes a more societal view than many of us are willing to admit, with our over/hyper emphasis on individual rights. in other words, i believe there can be a point at which society itself is so bad that its very actions can call down the wrath of god to demand societal accountability for moral grievances. this is, of course, so quaint and “un-nuanced” a view in our current climate, i realize. . . .

  3. I tend to agree with you John. Individual rights have their place, but they have certainly been over emphasized. In the scriptures, God often appears to bless and condemn whole peoples/societies as much he does individuals.

    The scriptures also often emphasize that it is because of their cumulative secret works of darkness that God condemns societies. With our limited mortal perceptions it is easy to focus only on visible wickedness. God judges based on the actual degree of societal unrighteousness, including secret sin.

    I believe that the level of private wickedness in a society is always significantly worse than the public. The fact that our society is increasingly tolerant of public wickedness makes me believe that what is going on in private is truly abominable.

  4. JMW:

    I remember when we were pregnant with our first, the doctor told Andrea that he was going to do some tests for down syndrome. When we asked why, he said that it was so that we could elect for an abortion if that was how we felt. We were HORRIFIED to say the least.

    I agree that what goes on in private must be terribly scary. Thanks for posting this, but dang it makes me feel sad inside.

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