Over the past several months, this blog has discussed numerous possible causes of birth defects. However, there is one cause that was never considered: sin. Yet according to one former candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, that is the main reason birth defects exist. E.W. Jackson was recently quoted as stating that "the whole cosmos has been made imperfect -- wounded -- by sin." He claimed that birth defects are one example of the wounding, along with "other destructive natural occurrences."
If only it were so simple. If birth defects had one specific cause, it would be much easier to solve the problem, no matter what it was. Unfortunately, birth defects have a variety of causes, several of which are still unknowable to us. Countless studies have been conducted to determine the true causes and -- hopefully -- cures.
Birth defects may have a genetic cause that is completely removed from the parents' behavior or environment. The birth defect could be caused by a spontaneous mutation, or from genetic damage over several generations.
Or else the birth defect could be the result of either parent's behavior -- for instance, a pregnant woman who drinks alcohol and smokes increases the risk of giving birth to a baby with birth defects. A pregnant woman may also be at increased risk of having a child with a birth defect if she takes certain prescription antidepressant or antiepileptic medications during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Even the parents' choice to have a baby at a later age may affect whether the baby has a birth defect or develops normally.
Then, there are environmental factors that may impact a fetus's development regardless of the parents' behavior. For instance, fetal development may be impacted by toxins emitted from a nearby coal-burning power plant. Power plants are one of the greatest emitters of mercury, which can have a harmful impact on human health even in small doses. Fetal development can also be impacted by toxic herbicides used on nearby crops, emissions from heavy freeway traffic, and even toxins in common household products and furniture.