The Teacher Who Never Spoke

How my brother who could never walk or talk coached dozens of his peers into manhood.

Most famously advanced by John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism argues that an action is good only because it maximizes a given benefit. This school of thought’s most prominent champion today is the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. In Singer’s version of utilitarianism – which is in many ways just an especially forthright articulation of our culture’s worldview – to act ethically means to seek to maximize the satisfaction of people’s desires. This, in Singer’s view, also means that we must seek to minimize the suffering of people unable to have or express preferences – if necessary, through terminating their lives before or after birth. People such as Duane.

.. For many in this camp, not all members of the human species are considered persons. Personhood, they argue, requires self-awareness and the ability to conceive of future goals and plans: to experience oneself as having interests.

.. In Christian terms, an action is good not only because it has beneficial consequences, but because it is good in itself. What’s more, good actions have the power to change for the better those who do them.

.. Whatever his level of intellectual development, he was someone. Someone who, even in Singer’s terms, had interests, someone who had a good purpose for which he was made.

.. As kids we prayed confidently for miraculous healing, sure that the next morning he’d run out of his room to meet us. But sooner or later, the realization caught up with each of us: D is D, and he’s here, as he is, for a reason.

.. It is not that Christianity glorifies suffering for its own sake. Even Jesus suffered on the cross “for the sake of the joy that was set before him.” It is not that Christian teaching denies that sickness should, and will, be healed. Rather, we are convinced that God is in the business of exalting the lowly, that he takes his place in the frailest of bodies, that his “power is made perfect in weakness.”

.. To crack a cold heart, to train it in love, is the most liberating service any person can do for another. These gifts do not show up on an ultrasound. They aren’t mentioned in the first diagnosis of disability.

.. Could the quest to eliminate others’ suffering be a disguised attempt to distance ourselves from pain, because we fear there is no way through it?

.. Is it possible to protect ourselves from grief? What if we end up protecting ourselves from love?

.. he was able to contribute because his community knew that he was valuable anyway, as a brother. His presence with us brought the image of God to light – within him and within those who cared for him.