Sit in Grandpa's chair." The laughing voice rises from my office chair as Max bounces up and down. Max is my six-year-old grandson, and his visits are a whirl of McDonald's Happy Meals and rambunctious splashes in the pool.

When strangers see Max for the first time, they're immediately drawn to the blond, tousle-haired youngster. But in a few moments, they also notice that Max is different. You see, Max is autistic.

And today kids not very different from Max are being targeted for elimination.

Prenatal testing has become so sophisticated that doctors can now identify many disabilities before birth. But since most have no cure, the only way to "prevent" the disability is to prevent the baby's birth. Thus abortion is bringing back eugenics—the idea of weeding out "defectives" and upgrading our genetic stock.

Consider: In 1990 Joycelyn Elders said that abortion "has had an important, and positive, public-health effect" by reducing "the number of children afflicted with severe defects." Here was a public health official praising "the eugenic utility of abortion," notes Tucker Carlson in the Weekly Standard. Abortion is cast not merely as a private choice but also as a way to improve the species.

Take the case of Down syndrome. Studies reveal that when pregnant women learn they are carrying a Down syndrome baby, 90 percent have an abortion. Many say they are acting under pressure from doctors and insurance companies. In a Canadian study, one in three of the mothers said she felt "more or less forced" to abort.

The arguments wielded to "force" women are often crassly economic. Nachum Sicherman of Columbia Business School calls abortion of Down syndrome babies "a great cost saving." Dr. Mark Evans, director of Detroit's Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy, observes that prenatal screening costs $1,000, whereas the first year of a Down syndrome baby's life costs about $100,000. How many couples, facing such staggering costs, are tough enough to withstand the pressure?

And if we don't catch all defective babies before birth, some doctors have recommended letting them die after birth. A 1975 poll found that 77 percent of American pediatric surgeons favored withholding food and medical treatment from Down syndrome newborns. And some have done just that, as we know from highly publicized cases like the 1982 Baby Doe decision in Indiana.

Ironically, eugenics is making a comeback just as it has become possible for Down syndrome and other special-needs children to lead fairly normal lives. The average Down syndrome child in America today, Carlson writes, is only mildly to moderately retarded. He can expect to attend school, learn to read, hold a job, and to live independently.

In fact, while these children are being targeted for elimination, one adoption agency can't keep up with the demand for them. "It's not at all difficult" to find homes, Janet Marchese of the Down Syndrome Adoption Exchange told Carlson. Her waiting list rarely dips below 100. World magazine recently told the touching story of a couple who adopted two Down syndrome children.

What do these couples know that doctors don't? They know children like Max. When Max was diagnosed as autistic, I agonized for my daughter, Emily. But he has turned out to be, quite simply, a great blessing to both of us.

"Max is bright, charming, witty, creative," Emily wrote in a letter. It's just that these talents are "channeled in a different way for him." And "different" is sometimes better. "Max seems to appreciate the joy of life more than most of us," Emily wrote. "He brings so much to those around him because of his joyous spirit and exuberance for life. He is a constant reminder of the simple pleasures the rest of us have forgotten."

Raising a child with special needs has transformed my little girl into a mature Christian woman. "I imagine that when God created Max, He took him straight from His heart, cupped him in His hands, and set him down on this earth," Emily wrote. But "God knew when He created Max that he would need extra help. So God keeps His hands cupped around Max. … How could a child who is held by God be anything but a gift?"

The experience has taught Emily a profound truth: that "God does not define us by our limitations and shortcomings." If he did, where would any of us be? Some of us are handicapped genetically, others by injury or illness. Some are physically healthy but suffer crippling emotional pain; still others are twisted spiritually by pride or by ambition.

Kids like Max force us to confront ourselves. He is a visible reminder that every one of us is broken and fallen, desperately in need of God's redeeming grace.

Humility about our own shortcomings is the spiritual counter to eugenics. Of course we must craft a persuasive moral case against killing the weak and vulnerable. But we must also pray for spiritual wisdom—for a spirit of humility that refuses to play God and arrogate to ourselves the right to judge these lives worthless.

Emily is devoted to helping people understand children like Max. And as for those who believe such children should be eliminated, I say they are going to have to fight my daughter—and fight me.

For Max, Grandpa's chair will always be there.

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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