Incompatible with life

On April 22nd 2014, Jess Evans gave birth to two baby boys. However Jess and the father Mike Houlston were aware that their children would be born with very different degrees of health. While their son Noah had good health his brother Teddy had been diagnosed in the 12th week of pregnancy with anencephaly, a rare abnormality which prevents the brain and skull from developing. Teddy was expected to live for only a short time after birth, after an hour and a half with his family, he passed away.

Shortly following Teddy's death he became Britain's youngest organ donor as his kidneys were removed to help save the life of an adult with renal failure. The operation was performed in University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff by Dr Richard Hain, Dr Roshan Adappa and specialist nurse Angharad Griffiths.

The story made headlines around the world which is testamount to the love of this family, the commitment of the parents to their children's wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, and the excellence of the medical team.

From the perspective of Northern Ireland the story also provided a valuable insight. In recent months there has been an attempt to define babies with the same condition as Teddy as "incompatible with life". This has formed part of the push for David Ford's "Fatal Fetal Abnormality Bill" which would legalise abortion in cases where the child was not expected to live long after birth.

In no report on Teddy was he described as "incompatible with life". Instead the truth was fully spoken and Teddy was recognised in all his worth, equal in dignity to his brother Noah.

The question this raises is why other children with anencephaly are not equally valued?

Possibly because of a too narrow understanding of what makes a life worthwhile. The value of a life is defined rigidly in terms of selfless altruistic acts and therefore babies who will only live for a few hours will not meet this criteria. 

In the case of Teddy, when his organ donation provides a tangible benefit for another it is like a safety valve has been released. All the pent up love for this newborn babe can be set free. Because a reason has been found to justify Teddy's life it becomes easier to love him without the need for a reason which means loving him based on who he is.

Before love is merited based on what we do it is received based on who we are. Who are we? For many the answer that we are human, that we share a nature is enough. On this basis alone a life is worthwhile and the gift of love is possible. But the actions of Teddy's parents offer a deeper answer,

"His parents wanted two things. The first was that Teddy should be baptised. The second was that he should be able to donate his organs when he died. Both were celebrations of Teddy; their son who didn’t only die, but had also lived."

Richard Hain, the Guardian 

To understand the full goodness of our humanity is to see it in the light of Christianity. We are God's children, made in His image and baptised as members of the body of His son, Jesus Christ. This is who we are, we didn't earn this by our actions, we simply received this when we were made by God.

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