Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. –Isaiah 49:15
Tragically, a severely disabled child in the UK, known only as “RB”, will soon be killed after his father withdrew his case against the boy’s mother who wants to have his ventilator removed. By all accounts I’ve read RB has no brain damage and is certainly not described as being in any kind of “vegetative state”. He was born with congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS), a rare neuromuscular condition which severely limits the ability to breathe and move limbs. He’s been in the hospital since he was born about a year ago and needs a ventilator to help him breathe, but otherwise he’s cognitively sound and has been able to communicate with his parents and doctors.
To her credit, RB’s mother has been by his side from day one, but she soon decided that “the intolerable suffering experienced by her son must outweigh her own personal grief should she lose her child.” In other words, it is better for her child to be dead than disabled.
I cannot adequately express to you how heartbreaking it is for me to hear stories like this. Not only as a disabled person myself, but as a lover of all human life. If I have learned anything in the last ten years it is that 1.) life is good and beautiful just as it is, including its burden of suffering and that 2.) it is a crisis of faith that causes these otherwise well-meaning people to lose hope in the midst of suffering to the extent that killingis seen as a desirable alternative.
“Our great drama,” writes Fr. Jaques Philippe, is that “Man does not have confidence in God.” If we do, St. Paul tells us:
we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinth. 4:16-18)
For many, the presence of suffering and the frequent lack of consolations, or the experience of support from God, are great obstacles to abandonment to Divine Providence. But this is what it means to have faith:
First of all, in order to experience support from God we must open ourselves to Him and give Him room to work and reveal Himself in our lives. It is quite difficult to find what we are not seeking in the first place.
Secondly, we must be willing to accept the limits of our human ability to fully understand the Wisdom of God:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9)
Certainly this is the case when it comes to understanding suffering. What human soul would have ever dreamed of choosing the scandal of the Cross as the means for our salvation? It is the Wisdom of God that rules all things, not the self-serving judgment of men. Of course it is difficult for any parent to see their child in pain. But killing is never an appropriate response to human suffering. Our call, rather, is to be convinced of the goodness and mercy of God and trust that He can use whatever unavoidable suffering befalls us, even the most “intolerable”, for our benefit.
We cannot have any mathematical or philosophical certitude of this; it can only be an act of faith. But it is precisely to this act of faith that we are invited bu the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus, understood and received as the definitive victory of God over evil. (Fr. Jaques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, p. 31)
Every human life, even when it is subject to pain, is infinitely blessed and valuable and worthy to be lived. Suffering does not diminish human dignity, killing does.