“Germany Incest Couple Loses Appeal”

Yesterday I happened upon this news.

Patrick Stuebing was sentenced to 3 years in prison for the crime of having sexual relations with his biological sister.

So, incest in Germany is a criminal offense, and on 12th April 2012 the European Court of Human Rights upheld Stuebing’s conviction and prison sentence.

I find this ruling disturbing.

Yes, you may shudder at the thought of siblings having a sexual relationship. You may feel repulsion or disgust.

But does it follow that two adults in a consensual sexual relationship should be imprisoned for their relationship, and their children taken away from them, because of their blood relationship? Is it right to treat those people that way? Really?

There has got to be a reason for something being a crime, something beyond, “It disgusts me.”

The argument for making incest a criminal offense is that children born of incest have a high probability of being born with disabilities.

So is it a crime to produce children if there’s a good chance they will be disabled? What if one person in the incestuous couple is sterile? Is it alright then?

Or what about people with hereditary genetic defects with a high probability of passing on those defects to offspring? Should they be convicted and sentenced if they have sex with the possibility of producing offspring?

What about women in their 40s? Or men above the age of 60?

Here’s another (and for me, more interesting) question:

Is it morally wrong to decide to have children if there is a good chance that your children will be born with disabilities?

This question is sneaky. The question presupposes so many things, for example, that getting pregnant or impregnating somebody involves a conscious decision to have a child. In a lot of cases, that’s simply not true. Look at Genghis Khan. He committed a lot of crimes, including rape and genocide. He also fathered a lot of children (without any particular intention of doing so).  I wouldn’t count his fathering children amongst his crimes, though obviously I would count the rape.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to the topic: it seems a lot of people actually believe that it’s morally wrong to bring a child into this world if that child is severely disabled.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why someone might not WANT to give birth to a severely disabled baby. Severe disabilities are challenging (yes, an understatement) for the disabled person and for carers and parents, and many people do not want to take on such a challenge.

But that doesn’t make the choice to do so morally wrong.

Or is it wrong because of the disabled child’s quality of life? In other words, that child would be better off dead?

Or is it wrong because of the impact the disabled child has on the people who have to care for him/her? The child somehow has a harmful effect on others?

In my experience, mentally or physically disabled people are not any more likely to hate their lives than people who are not disabled. And similarly, it is not somehow inherently worse to have someone in one’s life who is mentally or physically disabled. A disability does not define a person. It defines certain challenges for that person, not who they are. And we ALL have different challenges.

Every human being is immeasurably precious, and has infinite potential to positively impact others. It’s not for me to say who would be better off dead or alive, especially not before they’re even born! And it’s not for me to judge someone else’s decision to have a child.

I’m not saying that absolutely anything is okay, that others can do what they like with their lives and it’s all okay by me. It is not okay to hurt others. That’s an easy one to understand. This one is more subtle: it’s not okay to try to make other people’s decisions for them, or to punish others for not doing what you’d like. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

And it’s not okay to treat people as criminals for not conforming to society’s ideas of what is or is not repulsive.

So yeah … that’s what I think of this whole “Germany Incest Couple Loses Appeal” business, which has touched on so many sensitive issues for so many people …

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