Is a Child with Microcephaly Useless to Society?

Read any health section in a newspaper and you’ll find news of the Zika virus and its effects everywhere. Gaining more media attention as of late is the fact that as more babies are born with microcephaly, more countries are having to think about changing their abortion laws. One article in the New York Times made me abruptly pause while reading, surprised and shocked at the words of a major hospital director in Colombia. He was “firm that any woman whose fetuses showed signs of the condition would be offered [an abortion]. No woman, he said, should be forced to carry “a child that, in a few words, is useless to society.”’

But as I thought further, maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked at what he said, at his view of a child with a birth defect. After all, we are a society that values the powerful, the clever, and the beautiful. We have reality TV shows that exalt the “survivor,” while the weak, vulnerable, and dispensable are mere liabilities. As we age, we do all we can to conquer the enemies of gray hair and wrinkles – advertisers play on our expectations that we can eliminate pain and imperfection. Chronic weaknesses of body, mind, or soul are to be dealt with and quickly moved past or covered up. It’s as if we are saying, to be human is to be powerful and capable and self-sufficient. 

If this is the air we breathe, then maybe we can begin to understand how someone could make a comment like this: that to be “useful” in society is to be independent; to have a valuable life is to be self-reliant. But our God is a God who has ordained brokenness to be used for his purposes and for his glory. Our God is a God who creates all life, not just the life that is efficient and skilled in what our society deems as useful. Our God is a God who is the Giver and Sustainer of all life, and he gives that life in his image.

Statistics number Americans with disabilities at over forty million people – about one in every six people. And if you add to this number those whose brokenness is relational and emotional, this category gets even bigger. What happens if all of these people are gone, or what happens if we never interact with people who require a certain, higher level of care? I think we miss out on something incredibly valuable, something that we desperately need in order to understand the gospel.

Every level of brokenness offers us an opportunity to see God, because it helps us to recognize our own neediness. It reminds us we are finite and that this world is not as it should be. It helps us to understand who we all are before God – and seeing that is a gift. We can’t understand the gospel if we don’t know the gravity of our helplessness and incompetence. Contrary to our culture, we find strength not in human ability, but in our God being supremely able when we are utterly unable. It is especially those who are born with conditions like microcephaly that remind us of this liberating truth. All are indispensable. None of us in our physical bodies are home.

The Washington Post recently published an article documenting a mother in the States who has two girls with microcephaly. I urge you to read it, because she compellingly shows us “the joy that can come from having these kids… I would not have chosen it prior to my girls, but I didn’t know what I was missing out on.” Rather than seeing her children as “useless” because their life expectancy is short, their health complications are serious, or because of the energy it takes to care for them, she describes them as a gift: “This is the baby I’m supposed to be a mom to,” she said. “I would be missing out on a gift that had been given to me.”

Our weaknesses don’t raise or lower our value in the eyes of God – our lives weren’t purchased by Jesus at a low bid, but the highest one. Life isn’t less valuable because of its size, or its level of intellect, or because of its relative independence. Every life is precious, and every life is a gift from God. A child’s life is not less deserving of protection just because some of its brokenness is anticipated before they leave the womb. God’s heart is profoundly tender toward the widow, the orphan, the lame, the blind, and those deemed “useless to society.” Ours should be too.


*Credit to the book, Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display his Grace for some thoughts that informed this post.

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