What Is the Bible’s View?
Why Are Some Born Handicapped?
LITTLE Karen, four years old, was dying of leukemia. This was a severe blow to her parents. They had been going to the Roman Catholic Church regularly, but now they had stopped, because, as they put it, “you wonder when you’ve tried to lead a good life why this happens to you.”—New York Times, February 2, 1973.
Karen had been born handicapped, although it took three years before this became manifest. In the United States four out of every one hundred babies are born with an obvious handicap, being hunch-backed, crippled or blind, or with heart or brain defects. By the time infants are one year old more defects become apparent, so that the number has increased to seven out of a hundred. Why do such things happen? Who is to blame? What can be done about it?
In Bible times some were born handicapped. The apostles Peter and John miraculously healed a man who was “lame from his mother’s womb.” (Acts 3:1-10) Jesus Christ restored sight to a man born blind. His disciples had asked him if the blindness was due to the sins of his parents or because of his own sins. Apparently Jesus’ disciples believed, as some rabbis do, that a person can sin in his mother’s womb before birth. Jesus replied that the man’s blindness was not due to any sins on his part or on the part of his parents but was so “that the works of God might be made manifest in his case.” Not that God caused the blindness in the first place. Rather, the man’s blindness furnished an opportunity to make manifest the works of God.—John 9:1-7; Rom. 5:12.
Quite likely that man was born blind because of some chromosomal failure or genetic defect, even as was little Karen. Thus, if parents have a serious heart defect, the risks are from 21 to 37 times as great as they would otherwise be, that their children will have a similar defect. Also, a man who has hemophilia will transmit this genetic defect to his grandsons through his daughters. In all such instances the parents cannot be blamed, as they have no control over the matter.
Then, again, due to ignorance a mother may cause her child to be born deformed. This was the case with the pregnant women who, during the early stages of their pregnancies, took sleeping pills containing thalidomide, a synthetic drug. Termed “one of the greatest medical tragedies in history,” this drug caused 12,000 women in many different lands to give birth to deformed babies, one half of which were so deformed that they were either born dead or lived but a few hours or a few days.
Of the six thousand ‘thalidomide babies’ that survived, from one third to one half were born with limbs missing or with deformed limbs. The lifetime care of each of these handicapped children has been estimated at $250,000. Certainly God cannot be blamed for these things that humans do, can he?
In the case of the ‘thalidomide babies,’ the courts ruled that the drug companies rather than the mothers were to blame. But there are ever so many handicaps for which the parents, and in particular the mother, may be to blame. For example, many infants are born with defects because their mothers acquired a venereal disease. By their indulging in loose conduct either before or after marriage the parents gave their children a handicapped inheritance. Pregnant women who smoke cigarettes increase the risk that their babies will be born dead or stunted. There has also been found to be a relationship between aspirin and birth defects. Even undue efforts to keep her weight down may cause a pregnant woman to harm her unborn child.
That in some cases the blame for a child’s handicap must rest upon the mother is seen from a recent report on the effect of incest. The Bible strongly condemns incest. The law of Moses provided the death penalty for incest. (Lev. 18:8-17) Thus a Czechoslovakian medical researcher made comparisons between the offspring begotten by incestuous relations and those born by the same women but not the product of incestuous relations. The study provided “dramatic evidence that among the offspring of incestuous unions, the risk of abnormality is appalling,” and showed the “unmistakable effect of inbreeding on infant mortality, congenital malformations and intelligence level.” (Newsweek, October 9, 1972) Truly these findings underscore the Scriptural principle: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.”—Gal. 6:7, 8.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of being born handicapped is that it often causes parents to wonder why God permitted it or why he caused it, as though he were to blame for their plight, as in the case of little Karen. Others have taken a fatalistic attitude, as though it were God’s will for them, or that they deserved the tragedy. Still others speak of the early death of a deformed child as though ‘God wanted it to be with Him.’
But Jehovah God, the Creator, cannot be blamed. He created the first pair of humans perfect, for all his work is perfect. (Deut. 32:4) When our first parents sinned, not only did they become imperfect and pay with their lives, but all their offspring since then have been born imperfect and in a dying state. (Rom. 5:12) The nature of these imperfections has a bearing on whether a child is born handicapped. Thus not all pregnant women who took thalidomide in the early stages of their pregnancy gave birth to deformed babies but only those who also had a genetic defect. And as we have seen, other factors may also be contributing causes.
The Bible tells us that “God is love” and that he has made provision for humankind to regain its perfection by means of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ and Christ’s kingdom. Under the sway of that kingdom, there will come to be no tears, mourning, pain or death—hence liberation from all physical and mental handicaps. Even the dead will arise to benefit from those blessings.—1 John 4:8; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
In the meantime what? Carefulness in obeying God’s laws and practical wisdom can do much to avoid the likelihood of a child being born handicapped in some way. Today there is also “genetic counseling” whereby parents can ascertain, at least to some extent, the risks they may be taking in bearing offspring.
And where this tragedy has already struck a family, what can be done? It should be viewed as a challenge to be met. How? By the rest of the family manifesting unselfish concern, patience, endurance; all contributing whatever they can so that the handicapped one can enjoy life in spite of his affliction, doing to that one as they would like others to do to them.2