At a recent party, the conversation veered rapidly from brandy and mulled wine to beauty and appearances. Amidst the general cheerful banter, I overheard a small group of people talking about children with severe disabilities and how parents of such children cope with life. One guest happened to ask – ‘if parents had prior knowledge about a child’s mental disorder before it is born, then wouldn’t it be better to simply abort the pregnancy rather than face a lifetime of suffering?’
My first instinct was: If abortions based on children’s disability were to become common, then we tend to become very intolerant as a society. Take a look at the statistics on this UK website (link).
‘1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year’
‘About 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time’
If we knew ahead of time, would we simply axe a quarter of the population, or perhaps one tenth of our children?!
However, on pondering about this topic, I realise that we seem to live in a world where anything less than ‘perfect’ faces some form of social rejection (Forget the fact that perfection itself is over-rated and I am yet to come across a ‘perfect’-looking person – who has not had a nose-job or boob-job, that is!)
That being the case, children who have severe mental disabilities might just be far more vulnerable than others. How often have we come across cases of sexual abuse against mentally unstable victims!! Read this excerpt on ‘at least 19 mentally-challenged girls who had bruises on their bodies and other signs suggesting sexual abuse.’
Now brace yourself and click this link to get a broad picture of the wide range of disabilities! They range from mild to severe, hardly impacting life or greatly hinder even basic functioning!
In my strictly personal and very subjective opinion (not supported by any facts whatsoever!!), as Indians, these impact our thought process:
1) Social impact: Taunts, Ridicule and Social rejection!
As I remember it, about two to three decades ago, there was not much awareness of ‘special needs’. Let’s take a very simple example. A child wearing thick glasses would most likely be taunted with the words ‘soda-buddi’ (meaning, glasses as thick as a soda bottle). A polio-crippled child would be mercilessly teased ‘langda’ (lame). This is not at all uncommon!
It gets worse as the disability is more severe.. Take a child who suffers, say from ADHD. The most probably thing to happen at school is that an inexperienced teacher would label him ‘hyperactive’ or ‘wild’. Or take the case of an autistic child. The common man, out of sheer ignorance, is quite likely to reject the child from social circles by branding him or her as ‘mentally retarded’. The child therefore faces a huge social disadvantage!
I agree that a lot of research has gone into the spectrum of disabilities and special needs. Unfortunately though, awareness at a common level, is just not enough. So, don’t you think that a child with severe mental disabilities is more likely to lead a very difficult life as compared to other children?
2) Personal impact: The thin line between ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Burden’?
We love our children, but there are moments when they can totally get on our nerves. Like say, non-stop whining during school-holidays! So imagine, for a moment, the life of parents of a severely disabled child? They have to look at (and look out for) their child 24*7, perhaps even fully knowing that there is no immediate or long-term solution. Perhaps they will have to physically look after the child all his/her life. Such parents often withdraw into a shell, unable to face society and even themselves, and watch in despair, as life slips right through their hands.
Research papers claim that any child with disability will thrive well if nurtured with love and care. However, the red flag here is: When will the parent snap? There is a very delicate line differentiating ‘responsibility’ from ‘burden’. Afterall, parents are human too!
3) The great Karmic circle
Apparently, abortion is legal in UK if the child is ‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. Abortion is legal in India too, under certain specific medical circumstances.
So now, the big question is: What is cruel and what is kind?
Is aborting a severely disabled child cruel and heartless? Or is it simply an act of kindness to a child who is likely to face immense hardships?
Imho, IF done in good faith – it is but ‘kindness’ to spare an innocent child from misery.
What do you believe? Do share!!
Edited to add: The intention of this post is not to JUDGE other parents who face such a dilemma, but to put yourself in their shoes and analyse what you would do! Thanks!!