Blogging the string in the labyrinth of Crete

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Girl Without a Face

I'd found a posting on joelcomm ( after watching a show on the science channel with my kids. I found the story of Juliana Wetmore touching, and some of the negative comments on joelcomm revolting. It inspired me to write this comment, and to reopen this blog. Indeed, it will even cause me to consider once again my position on abortion, though I believe I will remain pro-choice. It's not as well written, and is more emotional than I would usually prefer.

Were one of my sons to grow up and in fifteen or twenty years come home and announce they wanted to marry a girl like Juliana, I would weep -- I would sob tears of joy that I'd raised a child who could be so compassionate and wise, who could look beyond the shallow surface of a person's body, and was so willing to go through what would surely be hardship for a woman he loved. If any of you who have children can say differently, that you would rebuke your children for such a decision, that your emotional reaction would be revulsion, you are horrific monsters.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a show on Juliana on the Discovery channel, along with my wife and two sons, 8 and 6 years old. It gave us a wonderful opportunity to stress to them how they should not judge others on appearance, and the hour-long show gave them a chance to be both interested in her plight and get used to the idea of seeing her as a person. My older son wants to be a doctor, and so is interested in all medical shows. It's not the first time we've seen a severe facial deformity on tv, and won't be the last.

The parents face some incredibly difficult decisions. I don't think it's fair to criticize their choice of whether to go through with the surgeries or not. The program did mention how the parents were struggling with whether they should continue with further surgeries that might not be possible for her later in life, or just let her be a kid now. They want what all parents want for their children -- for her to have a fulfilled life, where she can contribute to society and feel love, if not sex (and frankly, who knows -- there are likely some who can look past her facial issues). I've worked with the mentally handicapped for several years, including many with Down's syndrome and far more profound difficulties. Rarely did I find their happiness in life to be in any way related to their mental problems.
The one I felt the most pity for was not the most disabled -- he was the one who had started life normally, and was hit by a car at age 12 and suffered permanent brain damage. He was excrutiatingly aware of what he had lost.

One of the striking things I find about this thread is that it's one of the few places on the internet I've seen where Christians are saying the things that they should be saying. Often, I see them saying things that seem like complete and utter rejections of the philosophy they purport to believe, and I feel like I'm the most "Christian" of them.

Which is a bit disconcerting, since I'm an atheist. I don't believe any god exists, nor that there is some divine purpose to Juliana's existence. I write here using the pseudonym I usually use on "militant" atheist boards such as PZ Myer's Pharyngula. I'd encourage other atheists to think about purpose for a moment. If you follow the new atheist rationale, you will assert that there is no divine purpose -- there is only the purpose that we create for ourselves. Are you seriously willing to assert
that it is impossible for Juliana to create a purpose for herself? Are you really just the dull materialists, so tied to outward appearance, as the theists would claim you are? Or do you really believe that people can make their own purpose, that people can overcome their own situations, and that people can learn tolerance -- as I suspect the triad of Dennett, Dawkins, and (yes, even) Hitchens believe?


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