Thursday, 8 September 2011

Attitude is everything

I was sent some amazing photos today, with the heading "Attitude is everything". They are of a little boy with effectively no legs. No doubt his life's not easy, nor for his parents. And yet it appears he enjoys a pretty full life - and enjoys is the operative word. I've not included the pictures of him cycling, horse-riding and water-skiing....

Yet I've been wondering, in the light of the attention drawn by the courageous MP, Nadine Dorries, to the extraordinary rate of abortion in this country, what "independent advice" his parents would have been given assuming that from conception he was going to be born like that. "What quality of life do you think he'll have?" I imagine the questions, the counselling, would have tended towards the conclusion of abortion being the "kindest" thing all round. And that is what disabled people feel and fear all too often, that they are regarded as having a sort of semi-life.

South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius
One of the great things about the World Athletics Championships in South Korea last week was seeing some disabled events taking place in among the able-bodied events, and even the South African, Oscar Pistorius, on his artificial legs, competing at the top level 400 metres alongside fully able-bodied athletes. Tomorrow tickets for the Paralympics in August next year go on sale, and I for one am going to try and get some. There'll be nothing second-rate about the athletes or their performances. In fact you could regard their achievement as even greater than what we'll see at the real Olympics.

I think it's a shame that Nadine Dorries' amendment was defeated. It wasn't after all very radical, just ensuring the women receive clearly disinterested counselling if they want it before having an abortion. I'm hopeful that the government's promised consultation will honour "the spirit" of the amendment, and ensure that pre-abortion counselling is carried out by trained counsellors and rigorously monitored for lack of pressure - either way -, so that there is real choice for women and, therefore, for their unborn baby.

A programme Jane and I often listen to is Radio 4's No Triumph No Tragedy presented by their disability correspondent, Peter White, who's blind himself. This week he was talking to the remarkable Dr Lin Berwick, who was born with cerebral palsy, put in an iron lung at birth, affecting her sight. Her mother wouldn't accept the doctors' advice to let her die and took her home, and brought her up rather too protectively. At the age of 15 she went completely blind and was sent away to a school for the blind, which was the making of her. Wheelchair-bound she worked in a bank, trained as a Methodist lay preacher and set up a charity to provide holiday accommodation for the severely disabled and their families. Eventually she met, fell in love with and married a widower. He developed Parkinsons Disease after six years of marriage and, after a prolonged depressed decline, he died refusing his medication. During his illness she lost her faith. The interview was recorded a month after his death, and so her grief must have been at its most raw. But her bleak conclusion was if we are determined to cut back on resources for care and support for the disabled then we should not be so assiduous in our efforts to save them at the outset. Reflecting on her own life experience she concluded for herself it would have been better if she'd not been saved.

Listening, I reflected that I was hearing the honest voice of grief. And also that I'd read the selfsame sentiment in the Bible on the lips of Job who cursed the day that the midwife announced his birth. God's verdict on him was that he was unusually righteous and that he had spoken what was right; he'd been honest rather than mouthing platitudes. Maybe, after all, Lin Berwick is not so far removed from faith - as she seemed wistfully to imply. I've no doubt she will achieve her ambition of building another holiday home in Cornwall, named after her late husband.

Personally I can't agree that any life, disabled or not, should be written off as not worth saving or preserving. I agree that it takes resources and that there's a cost to pay. And I agree that we need to know when to let go, and that that's hard. But we have the ingenuity to make life fulfilling despite all appearances. We shouldn't give up. Maybe the little lad may grow up to be another Oscar Pistorius, or a Nobel prize winner.

No comments:

Post a Comment