A child with spina bifida joins his Little League teammates for the playing of the national anthem.
Associated Press/Photo by Sarah Rice (Kalamazoo Gazette)
A child with spina bifida joins his Little League teammates for the playing of the national anthem.

A birth defect shouldn’t be a death sentence


I was born in 1965 with spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the development of the spine and lower extremities. It can vary in its severity—and my case is less severe than many—but in the mid-1960s, nearly all spina bifida cases were considered severe and many affected babies did not survive. You would think that because of medical advances, children five decades later would have a greater chance of survival—and they do—but those advancements are often of little benefit, thanks to a single Supreme Court decision: Roe v. Wade.

By God’s grace, I was born to a loving but determined mother who was also a nurse. She allowed doctors to perform needed exploratory surgery on me the day I was born. During that operation, my heart stopped on the operating table. To the shock of many, the doctor restarted my heart with epinephrine. Back then children with my “disability” were often left to die in such circumstances. My mom believed it was because of a greater plan God had for me.

Even though I survived that operation, doctors thought I would be unable to care for myself and would depend on others my entire life. My parents were also told I needed additional surgeries—procedures that carried an 80 percent risk of death. As a nurse, and by asking the right questions, Mom knew I might not need those operations, so she refused to allow them—a decision that proved to be correct but also got us kicked out of the hospital that was treating me.

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Today, advancements in treatment offer spina bifida patients far greater hope for mobility and improved “quality of life.” Some corrective surgeries can now be performed before birth. But other medical advancements, including the ability to detect spina bifida before birth, coupled with abortion on demand, mean that a child with this birth defect will likely be aborted before any of these new procedures can be tried. In fact, one widely quoted study found that 64 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with spina bifida in the United States and in several other Western countries are aborted.

My parents sacrificed greatly to provide the best care they could find throughout my childhood. Mom, in particular, spent months in various hospitals with me. It was during a particularly long, four-month hospital stay I came to Christ.

I also faced challenges in school, where I was the first “disabled” child in our local public school system during my elementary years. I got through those trials, was admitted to college a year early, and then went on to seminary and law school. My parents attended all those graduations, where the predictions from my first few months of life were proven incorrect.

I’m now an attorney and lived independently until I married a lovely woman several years ago. I’ve served as a deacon and an elder in two churches and am grateful for many years of memories with my (now late) parents, my brother and his family, and many friends. Most recently I’ve worked with others to establish a Christian nonprofit organization called Joseph’s Way, which seeks to prepare Christians for challenging times ahead.

I suppose my “quality of life” turned out much better than my early doctors expected. That is due to God’s grace, much of it shown through the love and care of my parents, who even after Roe v. Wade would have chosen life for me.

But the quality-of-life argument for opposing abortion misses the larger point: All life is God-given, and we should protect it to the extent we can, no matter how much a person proves to contribute to society. The way we treat “the least of these” and other vulnerable members of society is a test of us individually and as a nation.

We forget that the Nazis first practiced their killing techniques on the disabled and elderly before turning their fatal craft on the Jews. The German church rallied to stop the slaughter of the disabled during those early days of the Third Reich. If only we would now.

Steve Hall
Steve Hall

Steve is the Executive Director of Joseph’s Way. He is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the University of Virginia School of Law and has contributed to WORLD, Leadership Journal, and Crosswalk.com. He and his wife live in Virginia.


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