SIR – It is sometimes suggested that, if a child has a serious disability, it is a compassionate act to end his life as soon as possible by abortion to save him from suffering.
Probably the people best placed to comment on this are parents of children born with a disability. An American research study in 2012 surveyed parents of 272 children with Edwards syndrome or Patau syndrome.
They wrote that ‘although most parents described their children as having significant neurodevelopmental disabilities, almost all parents reported a positive view of family life and the quality of life of their child with T13-18. These parents overwhelmingly described surviving children as happy and stated that they were able to communicate with them to understand their needs.’
Interestingly, they also reported that a quarter of one- to three-year-old children alive at the time of the study could say ‘mama’ or ‘papa’ and over four-fifths of them could laugh, play with toys and eat by mouth. While there is a wide spectrum of how babies are affected, it would be a mistake to assume that having a life-limiting condition equates to having little or no quality of life for the child or his/her family, even with the challenges involved.
When parents find themselves dealing with the trauma of having a child diagnosed with a serious condition, and the difficulties of caring for a child with special needs, both the child’s and parents’ needs should be supported in every way possible, with meaningful investment in accessible perinatal hospice facilities and longer-term provisions.
Is abortion a simpler and easier solution? In some senses, it may seem so – yet, crucially, a child’s disability, however severe, does not make him or her any less human than you or me, as Helen Watt eloquently explained at the Citizens’ Convention this weekend.
Many Irish people owe their lives to our laws that respect and protect each person’s human right to life, disabled or not, and, as laid down in the 8th Amendment, both before and after birth. Replacing this respect for life with a utilitarian approach, in which a person’s right to life can be set aside based on what they are predicted to need or to achieve, would be a step backwards, not forwards, in human equality.