On November 26, The Cut published an article titled “Every Parent Wants to Protect Their Child. I Never Got the Chance. To fight for my son, I have to argue that he should never have been born.”
Jen Gann, the parenting editor for The Cut, tells of the tragic health complications that her toddler son, Dudley, faces daily—Cystic Fibrosis.
She paints an engaging picture of the world she has lived through and now, lives within. Gann talks about the impact that CF has, not only on her little boy, but on her. She delves into the reality of the emotional struggle, the “what ifs,” and the loss of dreams for not only her future and her family’s, but also that of her son’s.
My heart breaks for Gann and her husband. They had dreams of starting a family—a healthy family. They had hopes that did not include CF. They had aspirations that did not include being tied down to medication and treatments, every month, week, and even day. I am humbled as I try to imagine the sacrifice it would require.
However, Gann’s article is tragic. Not because of her son’s health. Rather, because the entire article is built upon the premise that she should have ended Dudley’s life before he was born.
Photo: Elinor Carucci
Yes. You read that right. Her article argues that she should have aborted Dudley because he has CF. The couple has even decided to sue for “wrongful birth.” Their reason? Despite having done prenatal tests, due to a clerical error, Dudley’s diagnosis came after birth, meaning they weren’t able to have an abortion.
Gann’s compelling prose in chronological fashion, punctuated with her inner thoughts and emotional reactions, and accented with beautiful photos of her son throughout would cause most readers to come to the paradoxical tension that as horrific as it sounds, abortion would have been a good idea.
There are two major fallacious ideas that are present within Gann’s article.
The first idea is that any human life that happens to not be perfect (at least physically or developmentally, as can be determined pre-birth), deserves mercy. And what mercy is that? The mercy of being “saved from their own life” by ending it before it can be lived.
Gann writes about this in a few places:
…And it’s something almost beyond me to imagine, looking into Dudley’s eyes and saying, I’m sorry I didn’t save you, from your own life….
…We were laying the foundation of a plan we’d discussed before I’d even gotten pregnant: If something were wrong, we’d decided, we wouldn’t continue the pregnancy…
…There’s no escape from knowing that the opportunity for mercy quietly slipped by and that something as idiotic as a clerical error is responsible…
Gann’s worldview is discriminatory at best and eugenic at worst. She appears to advocate for only “healthy” children being born and uses the facade of “mercy” and “suffering” to unapologetically present this view.
She is unequivocally clear in her advocation for only healthy children being born. When talking about her son Dudley she says, “I would have ended the pregnancy. I would have terminated. I would have had an abortion. That’s firmly in the past, and it is how I would have rearranged my actions, given all the information.”
Not only that, but Gann laments her antipathy for parents who, knowing full well, choose to carry to term and bring into this world a child who has some form of developmental or physical complications. She writes at one point, “The women who willingly made choices that were never presented to me and chose a child’s suffering: Sometimes I hate them.”
Gann’s visceral eugenic view is so hell-bent on eradicating the world of children who are not “perfect” that she has actual anger towards total strangers who choose to not abort their children who are not perfect physically or developmentally.
And it lurks in cowardice shadows behind the facade of “mercy” and the child’s “suffering.”
This idea of the “child’s suffering” leads into her second major flaw. She has assumed that she knows what her son Dudley is going to think one day and that indeed, killing him would have been a solution he himself would have rather wanted.
Photo: Elinor Carucci
I know, it seems ludicrous to even write that statement. But let’s examine this through a few of her own words.
…But none of those results would have been the ones we wanted, and we’d be up against the last should: I should have had an abortion. And that’s where my conviction crumples, because I don’t know how I’m supposed to tell Dudley that someday…
…I’m afraid of what he might want from me someday, of the kinds of questions he’ll want answered. He’s not dumb: He’ll figure out that his disease should have been detected before he was born, not after. The prenatal results should have been communicated to me by the midwives. A genetic counselor should have explained that being a carrier doesn’t necessarily mean an unhealthy fetus.
Yes. He’ll probably figure all that out. So what? Why would that change anything?
Well it only would change things if you think that Dudley would someday believe that he himself should not have had a life at all and that it would have been better for him to have been killed before taking his first breath.
First, that is a colossally illogical and selfish assumption. It has been refuted time and again by men and women with developmental and physical illnesses – they’re thankful for their life. A recent example of this is Frank Stephens, who while giving a speech to the The House Appropriations Subcommittee said, “I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living.”
Well not according to Gann. Had Stephens been Gann’s child in utero, and had she found out he had Down syndrome, she would have shown him “mercy” by ending his life before he could begin it.
She continues her audacious assumptions of what her son’s future thoughts on her bringing him into this world might be and says, “I should have had an abortion. And that’s where my conviction crumbles, because I don’t know how I’m supposed to tell Dudley that someday.”
Why is she struggling to tell Dudley that someday?
Not because she’ll be saying, “I should have killed you and not had you and that somehow that doesn’t change my love for you at all.”
No. Rather, it’s the feeling of guilt that she herself will have to endure when Dudley “realizes” that she could have aborted him, but didn’t.
…It’s one thing to watch a loved one suffer. It’s another to watch and know it’s your fault, even if only because of the way your body is made. And it’s something almost beyond me to imagine, looking into Dudley’s eyes and saying, I’m sorry I didn’t save you, from your own life…
…A woman once described the grief of her miscarriage to me as a “biological loneliness”; that’s something close to what wrongful birth feels like. A biological remorse. Logically, I know the guilt belongs elsewhere. But biologically, I feel a deep responsibility, a primal and uniquely female pain.
Gann has been so influenced by her idyllic worldview of “perfectly healthy human beings” that she can’t even fathom the reality that her son, Dudley, might actually be thankful his mom did not end his life in utero. She doesn’t leave any room for him to value his own life. She never even gives him the opportunity to build a life that he might consider a blessing and worthwhile.
Instead, from the early moments of his life, she has nullified any future feelings of value, blessing, and ownership Dudley could have on his own life and projects upon him a future of only asking his mother why she didn’t kill him before he was born.
Physical and developmental issues are complex, hard, and require a great deal of processing, research, and prayer. No health or mental issue pre or post birth are simply black and white.
But the truth is that life in general is not black and white, no matter how hard we try to make it seem that way.
The whole issue of wrongful birth brings up an important question: At what point do our lives become not worth living?
If a parent could see into the future and know that their 22-year-old son would die in a war, would that be just cause for an abortion? Or if a parent knew that their child would die at age 5, would they spare themselves the pain of losing a child then and cause themselves pain by terminating the child’s life in the womb?
Our fear of pain and suffering has caused us as a society to devalue life. Our culture tells us that if something, like a pregnancy, is unplanned, is hard, and will potentially be painful, you shouldn’t do it. So if your pregnancy promises to produce such things, you should have an abortion, right? Abortion allows you to find a way out of a “condition,” but it ends in death.
The reality is, beautiful things more often than not come out of less-than-ideal situations.
I won’t deny that a life filled with surgeries, constant fear of infection and disease, and limitations is hard. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to grow, to learn about goodness, and to be embraced by a community of help that will carry you through those hard times.
The bottom line is that every life has value. Every life has pain. But pain does not negate value and pain often produces beauty and joy.