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‘Move on’ to what?

A common response to tragedy says a lot about views on life

‘Move on’ to what?

(Krieg Barrie)

An op-ed in The Washington Post in February stirred no small amount of comments (at least 3,000 on the WaPo page, last I looked). The writer, Ruth Marcus, was disturbed about legislative proposals to ban the abortion of babies with Down syndrome. Or, as she put it, “barring women from terminating their pregnancies after the fetus has been determined” to bear the defective gene.

Her arguments should be familiar to all of us by now. The Supreme Court determined that it’s OK to have different views of when life begins, so no one opinion can be imposed upon all. It’s true that parenting always involves risk, but that’s different from demanding that a woman bear a child whose intelligence and life choices will be limited. And where does society get off “demanding” anything from a free woman? Isn’t that tantamount to “hijacking her body”?

Marcus has nothing against Down syndrome sufferers; the new Gerber baby is very cute, and she admires parents who welcome these children into their families. But make no mistake: She wouldn’t do it. “I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated [my own two] pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.”

Kudos to her for being so forthright, but what does that even mean?

To bypass vital questions in order to get where you want to go may look like ‘moving on.’ But it’s really standing still.

First of all, what’s to grieve? What was lost? If a potential person who’s better off dead, why be sad? You did him or her a favor. But if an innocent human being, however impaired, then another body was hijacked. Marcus offers no moral justification for such a ghastly act, except a somewhat refined, understated version of survival of the fittest with unmistakable nods toward eugenics.

And if we’re unclear about what was left behind, then what does it mean to “move on”? It seems to me there’s a lot of careless assumption behind that statement. We hear it constantly (and its corollary, “getting on with my life”) in connection with unpleasant experiences—especially unpleasant experiences for which the speaker bears some blame or made some contribution. (Rape victims and parents of murdered children seldom speak glibly about “moving on.” Their very souls cry out for justice.)

Traditional moral theory, both Biblical and ancient, asks us to consider purpose when determining value. In other words, part of understanding how to behave in relation to food, sports, sex, children, education, etc., is to ask ourselves, What are these things for? To bypass vital questions in order to get where you want to go may indeed look like “moving on.” But it’s really standing still. If the purpose of one’s life is to avoid as many unpleasant experiences—or even tragic situations—as possible, there’s no real movement at all. Avoidance is stationary.

To accept and deal with the challenges of life as they come is to ride the current, honing reflexes and chiseling away sharp edges and shouting in triumph at the end. The opposite is to hunker down in the stream like a rock. The waters pass but don’t shape you. Rather than ending the journey a different—and likely better—person than you were at the beginning, you grow hard and inflexible.

What is the purpose of life? One theory—Call it Door #1—is that life is for us to shape to our perceived advantage. The other theory is that life is for shaping us. Most people, I would guess, share the former view if only by default—and life as a rock can be very pleasant, if one is both gifted and lucky. Otherwise it’s likely to disappoint. And for everyone, it ends.

What is your life for? What is a Down syndrome baby’s life for? If Door #1, the answer is plain, and ultimately meaningless. If Door #2, the answer is unfolding, with the best-case scenario of hope that is inexpressible and full of glory. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


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  • RC
    Posted: Sun, 04/01/2018 10:39 am

    It appears to me that the Down Syndrome issue has more to do with the economic burden of care for a class of people who don’t contribute much, economically, to society.  This legislation continues us down the slippery slope to no life being protected.  When Ruth Marcus is 80 or 90 legislation will have been passed to end her life. Why?  Because old people are an economic burden. She will say wait a minute, this is not right, but it will be too late, as she gets a needle stuck in her so the rest of humanity can move on.

  • MamaC
    Posted: Wed, 04/04/2018 09:38 am

    I  may have missed something, but I understood the legislation in question to "ban the abortions" of those with Down Syndrome. That's a move toward protection of life, not further down the slippery slope.

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 04/05/2018 12:13 pm

    Mama C - You are right that the proposed legislation was an improvement, but unfortunately it will not go anywhere because of the attitude of Ruth Marcus and millions of others who do not value life. If a healthy baby has no value, then a baby with a disability is going to be valued even less. I did not make that clear in my first comment.  

  • Rudy49
    Posted: Wed, 04/11/2018 12:05 am

    The concept of door #1 is apt. It explains so much of what we see happening in our world and society. The push for LGBT rights, safe places on college campuses, the fascistic denial of the speech of those with whom we disagree, and so much more is, designed to make the world bend to my will, my peace, my comfort.

    To my way of thinking that is the coward's way out; it is not the path that we, as Christians, were called to travel. Yes, many of our experiences in life can be difficult, challenging, even horrific. But those are the very things that God will use, if we let him, to shape us into the person he so very much desires us to be.