Archbishop speaks on dignity of disabled children at York Synod


Archbishop Justin Welby speaking at York Synod, 7 July 2024

Thank you very much for asking me to speak.

Like many in this chamber today, we have a child with disabilities, in fact neurodiverse in our case. In her case she's called Ellie, she is 32 years old and she lives with us at Lambeth. Before she was born, during the pregnancy, there was some concern and a test was offered but it was made very, very clear to my wife that if the test was taken and proved positive, it would be expected that we asked for a termination. It was not a neutral process because they said it's expensive.

Like so many others here in similar positions, and I expect there'll be an enormous number, Ellie is exceptionally precious. She's precious because she's wonderful. She's kind. She is someone who gets cross and is happy and is sad. She is not that severely disabled. She can travel around, provided things go right. If trains get canceled, that's a bit of an emergency and so on and so forth. She's been chucked off a bus on one occasion by a ticket inspector who didn't believe that her disability card was genuine.

When we were having a conversation about divine healing, as sometimes happens in vicar's families, around the table one weekend with all the children there, the question was, 'What would happen if Ellie was healed? What would it look like?' And one of the other children said 'She wouldn't be Ellie'. And in that comment was the profound theological truth that Kate has just expanded about intrinsic human value and intrinsic human dignity. I've heard people say that neurodiverse children or people with severe learning difficulties, cannot take communion because they don't understand it. To which my question is, 'Would you like to explain it?'

And I hope that this motion passes not just because of Ellie but because of our belief in human dignity. And I hope that this motion gets overwhelming support, not because I think the government will immediately do something - because there isn't a lot of money around - but the more the Church does, the more we demonstrate to the world that we believe in the Cross and the resurrection and the ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, that we take Scripture seriously and we believe in the God who moves in the world in which we live. Thank you.

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