I recently told you about Jason McElwain. He’s the autistic high-schooler from Greece, New York, whose feats on the basketball court, in President Bush’s words, “captivated our country.” Not surprisingly, McElwain’s story is being turned into a movie. What is surprising is that this is not the only movie being made about autistic people. There are at least three other films scheduled for release or in production about autistic people and their families. The most highly anticipated of them is probably Daniel Isn’t Talking, starring Julia Roberts. Based on the novel by Marti Leimbach, it’s the story of a woman whose seemingly perfect world is turned upside down when her three-year-old son is diagnosed as autistic. Leimbach, whose nine-year-old son, Nicholas, is autistic, says that stories about autistic people “[dramatize] the fact that none of us have perfect children.” In her estimation, this is why the stories have broad appeal. As the grandfather of an autistic boy, I’m gladdened by the positive attention being given to people like my grandson Max, who has some amazing qualities. And one of BreakPoint’s writers and a valued colleague is a single dad raising an autistic boy. This subject is close to home. But, as a Christian, I cannot help but notice that all of this attention is coming at a time when it’s increasingly dangerous to be a handicapped child. They are squarely in the gunsights of those who are conducting what I call a “war on the weak,” which is what this present series is about. The best-known advocate of this war is Princeton Professor Peter Singer. He has justified the killing of a handicapped child if it “leads to the birth of another child with better prospects of a happy life.” In this case, “the total quantity of happiness will be greater . . .” It is tempting to dismiss Singer as a crank, that is, until you recall that, just last fall, the Netherlands legalized the killing of terminally ill children—this despite ample warning that the practice is not and will not be confined to the terminally ill. All Dutch children with birth defects are now at risk. Outside the Netherlands, the threat is subtler, but no less real. Italian neonatologist Carlo Bellieni has coined the term handiphobia to describe the fear of having a disabled child. According to Bellieni, we in the West see “the fetus, as a means and not as the end they truly are.” Thus, “the child is no longer loved unconditionally and respected as a human person.” Instead, we use prenatal testing to detect any identifiable defects in the unborn child. Those with such defects, like Down syndrome, are then aborted. As Bellieni puts it, “[A]s with all phobias, [the object of our fear] must be made to disappear.” Well, that’s putting it starkly, but it is true: If a prenatal test for autism were ever developed, it would not be long before autistic people would also be “made to disappear.” While Leimbach is right about no one’s child being “perfect,” Bellieni is also right about how much “imperfection” we’re not prepared to accept. That’s why I hope that stories like young Jason McElwain’s do more than make us feel good. I hope they also help us to understand the evil that comes from giving in to our fears. This is part three in the “War on the Weak” series.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary