I wrote this story after an uncomfortable holiday reading Singer's "Rethinking Life and Death".
By Andy Berry
Let's follow two babies, we'll call them John and Paul, and see what happens to them as they journey through life.
John and Paul come from poor families (a significant factor in their lives, as we'll see).
Let's start with John...
John's Mum had a difficult pregnancy, made even more so when John's Dad left her. John was born and grew up in Salchester, an industrial city somewhere up North. When he was 12, he 'got in a spot of trouble' over shoplifting but blamed his friends and went on to leave school with reasonable grades. Eventually, after long periods of unemployment, he got a steady job as an accounts clerk.
Here, John's story takes a sad turn. His Mum developed cancer and John watched, helplessly, as she died. It brought out all his frustration with his lot and he determined to escape to a better life.
One of John's old school friends (actually, the one John had been shoplifting with) soon suggested a neat little fraud that involved John fiddling a small amount from each customer's account. What the heck, thought John, as sure as anything "they" don't need money as much as I do.
Unbeknown to John, one of his customers was a family very much like Paul's. They were desperately saving money for a rainy day. To John, that didn't matter too much.
John got greedy. His expensive car needed expensive clothes and an expensive lifestyle. He was found out, but was 'let go' without being prosecuted.
You can guess the rest... A drug-dealer by twenty-five, convicted of attempted murder by thirty and a wreck by thirty-five.
Paul's start in life was even more difficult. He was a month premature, had trouble breathing and was pronounced 'severely disabled' even before he left hospital.
At this point, I could say that Paul's family was happy to accept young Paul and determined to do their best for him. That would be far from the truth...
You see, Paul's Mum had always dreamed of being a ballet dancer. She hadn't got very far herself but, as soon as she was pregnant, she pictured her son or daughter receiving the applause of an adoring audience after a brilliant solo performance.
I think you can guess what's coming. At every opportunity, Paul's Mum would say something like "If I'd have known he was disabled, I would have 'it' aborted and tried again." Well, at least she was honest.
Despite this, Paul had a reasonably happy childhood. He went to the local school where the other pupils treated him fairly although occasionally rough and tumble turned out a bit rougher on Paul than on the others in his gang.
It soon became obvious that Paul was going to need support for most of his life and so, come his nineteenth birthday, came the inevitable case conference. At this point, Paul's life looked mapped out - life in the community (almost), 'stability' and 'security'. The later two are particularly important for a 19 year-old, aren't they?
Now we fast-forward fifteen years...
Paul is still living in the community (almost) and John has just been released from prison. Guess what, they met! Well, this is MY story so I can do what I want.
John had joined a prisoner release scheme and was 'assigned' to Paul. John had never met a person with a disability before; he didn't know what to expect. Paul was apprehensive about his new carer, particularly when people kept reminding him where the panic button in his flat was.
A funny thing happened... John said "I wonder how Salchester Town are doing?" Paul said "Probably lose to Newton United." Then, they were off! Paul had never been to a football match - professional carer's job description omit "Encourage self-expression and interests" and it's such a bother taking your 'charges' out, after all.
Six months later, John has just completed a vocational qualification and is planning his wedding to someone he met on the course. Paul gets to see Salchester Town play regularly with John and has become a regular in the social club - he's on the committee.
Before you read the next part, consider these 'facts' about John and Paul...
John had probably cost society more than Paul had. After all, community care is cheaper than prison.
Paul's difficulties had been obvious right from the start. The professionals never bother to find out, to their surprise, that their pessimistic predictions don't turn out. But, nobody could have predicted that John would 'go off the rails', could they?
Now, to the morals of the story
Who could tell that John would have to go through hell? Who could tell that Paul would help John find purpose in his life? Who can tell whether they will continue to be friends? Who, indeed, can predict the future of anybody, disabled or not?
Whenever I hear debates about whether disabled children should be treated or "allowed to die" (i.e., killed), the emphasis is always on the individual rather than what each of us brings to society as a whole. No, it's not even on the individual.
Most debates seem to assume that 'one person is as good as another.' Why, I've even read a statement like "I'd have killed (whoops, not treated) my son so that I could try again." Chilling, isn't it?
Then there's the argument that the break-up of the traditional family means that disabled people impose "too great a burden" on society. Apart from questions about what society is for if not to care for all it's members, there's a counter-argument to this one...
You may never of heard of 'circles of concern' - I hadn't before I read Singer's book. The idea is that each person cares more for the people closest to him or her. In olden times, that meant family, community, tribe, and so on.
My little story shows how two total strangers can become a circle of concern. I expect that many of you have friends on the Internet who we'll never meet but who nonetheless matter to us more than our next-door neighbours do.
It's as if our circles of concern are losing their geographic boundaries. That doesn't mean they matter less - it's just that society is changing, again!
I'm really keen to hear what you think of this. Please email any comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org