You no doubt are familiar with the ongoing bumper wars. On one side is the traditional ichthys, an ancient Christian symbol that points to Christ (and to his followers as fishers of men). Sometimes the word “JESUS” is strategically placed in the center of the fish.
On the other side is the in-your-face “Darwin fish,” which has four little legs protruding from its belly, symbolizing not only the hotly contested theory of evolution but also the atheist presumption that so often accompanies it. This time “DARWIN” is placed inside the creature—blasphemously, I think, as the 19th-century naturalist is given godlike status.
Now we have a new kind of fish, which I spotted on a bumper this summer while we were taking our kids to Christian camp. This creature, which sported no legs that I could see from my vantage point in the next lane, nevertheless may be the most dangerous fish of all.
With the word “SCIENCE” prominently displayed inside its body, this fish seems to be taking both the ichthys and the Darwin fish to task. Science, the implication seems to be, is above all ideology, religious or irreligious, and we need to follow science wherever it leads.
This elevation of science to godlike status is an ideology in itself, of course—an exceedingly dangerous one. Science works well as a handmaiden of religion and morality. As sociologist Rodney Stark noted in The Victory of Reason, the West advanced scientifically, not in spite of the Christian religion, but because of it: “The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.”
But as an alleged source of ultimate truth in itself, science quickly turns cruel—even when its followers have the best of intentions.
Take, for example, the rise of simple DNA tests for fetal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. The tests, expected to be available by the end of the year, allow expectant mothers to discover whether the baby they carry has trisomy 21, a chromosomal abnormality that limits intellectual capacity.
The 350,000 Americans with this condition face lives of limited functioning and some health-related problems (often treatable). Down syndrome was previously detectable during pregnancy only via invasive and potentially dangerous procedures such as amniocentesis and CVS, which can be painful and present a risk of miscarriage. Now a simple blood test can screen for the condition. Those mothers who are indicated to be carrying Down syndrome babies can then receive the more invasive tests to confirm the diagnosis.
So what’s wrong with a little scientific advancement? Well, nothing, in itself. The problem is not with the science, but with what fallen and selfish human beings might do with it.
An estimated one in every 691 unborn children has Down syndrome, and 5,500 such children are born annually. But just imagine what might happen if mothers widely avail themselves of the new test, expected to be available by year’s end.
Currently, some 200,000 amniocentesis tests are performed every year—on only about 2 percent of pregnancies. One expert, however, says the new DNA tests might be used for 70 to 80 percent of all pregnancies, which is a quantum leap.
Down syndrome is only one diagnosis that prospective parents worry about. Others include cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia. Within the next decade, doctors may be able to test pregnant women for up to 200 diseases carried by their unborn children. Insurance companies, one observer notes, “are probably going to be very happy to cover this, since reducing the numbers of neonates with severe chronic disease will save them a lot of money.”
And just how are the numbers of these “neonates” to be “reduced”? Well, if the present is any predictor of the future, the answer is brutally simple. Currently, 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted every year. The pressure to abort a child who is less than perfect, already intense, will only get stronger.
Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, worries about how the presence of a test changes the birth of a child with a disability "from something that happened to you, to something that you participated in.”
In the past we allowed God to decide who would come into the world, and He evidently saw fit to allow entrance to many people with disabilities. Now, under the cold eye of “science,” it is we who must carry the burden of the knowledge of good and evil. It is we who must choose. But what criteria will we use in a society that has forgotten the ichthys?
Because of the risks to both mother and child, previously only pregnant women 35 and older were advised to get tested via amniocentesis for Down syndrome. But earlier this year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all pregnant women get the new test.
Advocates for those with Down syndrome are concerned, to say the least. Columnist George F. Will called the recommendation a “search and destroy mission” for a group of citizens that includes his adult son, Jon. Growing numbers of parents of children with Down syndrome are seeking to have their voices heard, too. According to The New York Times, “With no formal financing or organization, parents are arranging to meet with local obstetricians, rewriting dated literature and pleading with health care workers to give out their phone numbers along with test results.”
Many of these advocates describe themselves as pro-choice people who simply want their neighbors to have all the facts while facing the stress of a possible abortion. And the fact is, people with Down syndrome, and those who care for them, can have full and meaningful lives.
Indeed, while I would not for a second deny the inevitable challenges, frustrations, and heartaches involved in caring for someone with a disability, don’t you think there is something deeply ennobling about helping those created in God’s image—both for them, and for us?
The church hosts an annual 5k run that raised $35,000 for its STARS ministry this year. Part of that money will go to Washington House, where four developmentally disabled men now live. The home, just opened this year and staffed by trained volunteers, provides aging parents with a reassuring answer about how their children will be cared for in the future.
That’s a lot of work and resources devoted to people that much of society would just as soon forget. Is it worth it?
One of the residents, David, 26, is thrilled with his new place. Here’s what the ministry says about him: “Even though he has developmental disabilities . . . he enjoys gymnastics, powerlifting, wrestling, bowling. . . . David is very diligent and works hard at everything he does. He also likes to help people in whatever way he can. In his ‘spare’ time, he likes to peruse wrestling magazines.”
Is David’s life worth saving and developing, or aborting? Brian Skotko, a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society, says, “The ultimate question for society is, What forms of human variation are valuable?”
This is a question that the science fish cannot even begin to answer. But it is a no-brainer for those of us who still believe in the ichthys.
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