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Where there is life, there is hope

Elliott Pearce | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Like most of my Viewpoint columns this year, I drew the inspiration for this one from a conversation I had. I was discussing abortion (big surprise) with someone who did not share my opinion on the subject (another big surprise).
This conversation went much better than they usually do, which I attribute to the honesty and open-mindedness of my interlocutor. At one point, she made an interesting and unusual argument by supposing that the fetus is a human person, but that it would still be better for that person to be aborted than to be born into the situation that the children of parents considering abortion find themselves in.  
Her argument went something like this: A child’s parent or parents consider abortion because they are not prepared to take care of the child and/or because they do not want to at that time.
Therefore, if that child was born instead of aborted, its parents would not love it adequately, causing it lasting emotional and psychological harm. Because of their difficult financial and other circumstances, they would also not be able to provide it adequate education, health care, nutrition and enrichment activities like music, art and sports. All in all, the child would grow up unfulfilled and unhappy. Therefore, it would be better if that child had not lived in the first place.
There are a few obvious responses to this argument. One could say that it is presumptuous and wrong to claim that people born into difficult situations cannot overcome the circumstances of their birth to lead happy and successful lives. Rising from rags to riches is what America is all about. I am not equating happiness with financial success, either.
Those who are born poor and remain poor can still achieve more meaningful fulfillment than they could find in money. I also believe that the same holds true for sickness. Today, when doctors identify an irreparable birth defect in the womb, they almost always advise the parents to abort.
If they asked the parents of these children who were not aborted whether or not they consider the birth of their child a blessing and a joy, however, I bet that the parents’ answers would not be unanimous “no’s.” I myself have made the mistake of arguing on these very pages that someone should be denied an opportunity because it would put him in too difficult of a situation. I would be easy for me to dismiss this line of reasoning as another instance of that. Anyone who believes in Christianity must take this argument seriously, however, because the Bible does.
In the book of Job, God’s faithful servant curses the day he was born. Job suffers so terribly that it makes all the good things he has experienced in life seem insignificant by comparison. He wishes God had never given him a family, land, herds or even life itself because the joy he gained from all these things only served to heighten the pain he experienced when God took them away.
God restores Job’s happiness at the end of the book, but he doesn’t always do that in real life. For every example of a person who overcomes difficult circumstances to succeed, there is another example of a person who plunges from happiness into despair like Job. Should we grant the potential Jobs in society their wish by ensuring that those who are most likely to experience terrible suffering are never born?
I don’t think so. Job’s story makes one crucial point that I have not yet discussed: Anyone, perhaps especially those to whom God has given the most, can fall on hard times like Job.
We cannot predict the outcomes of people’s lives with any kind of certainty. Even if we use our most sophisticated statistical methods to determine that a given person has a 99 percent chance of dying of multiple stab wounds in jail while experiencing heroin withdrawal, there is still a one percent chance that this person could live a happy life. Likewise, many of those who are born with every advantage end up suffering terrible misfortunes.
Just as we cannot predict the outcomes of other people’s lives, we cannot predict our own, either. Some of us may already have struggled with difficulties like those the children of parents considering abortion face.
Even if we have avoided these challenges, we have no assurance that this will continue for the rest of our lives, or that the other difficulties we face will not bring us even more suffering (and more opportunity for triumph). We cannot divide human life into “life worth living” and “life not worth living.” Wherever there is life, there is hope, so if there is hope for us, there is hope for the unborn, too.
Elliott Pearce can be reached at Elliott.A.Pearce.12@nd.edu    
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.