A brief report from ProLife Auckland on a recent guest speaker to one of their discussion lunches.
Last Wednesday during our fortnightly discussion lunch, the Club was hugely privileged to have John Fox of the UoA English Department to come in and speak on his prolife experiences and give his thoughts on ‘what a culture of life looks like’. Over pizza, John, who having been born ten weeks premature knows a few things about appreciating life, talked how a woman’s choice of abortion is never made in a vacuum, but in fact represents the failure of society in a myriad of ways.
In an inspirational, thought-provoking 40 minutes, John presented kiwi prolifers with a challenge: that our goal of restoring New Zealand to a culture of life, means a radical- that is explicit and uncompromising- commitment to community, the truth, and human dignity.
It would be a grave hypocrisy, John continued, for us prolifers to argue for the protection of the unborn while failing to extend the same human dignity to our friends, family, the elderly, the disabled; even the stranger on the street. We show our respect for all human beings in how we treat the person who makes our coffee in the morning; our bus-driver; the homeless person in Albert Park. As Aristotle reminds us (via John), Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. We’re all in this together.
If you are looking to take the next step and get involved with an organisation that is part of realising John’s vision, click here to get in contact with us and we can work out how we can get you involved.
Cross posted from Liz Hoskings at The Liberal.
IT IS taken today as a truism that in order to be a feminist you must be ‘pro-choice’. The right to abortion is often deemed to be the most fundamental right of women, without which all others are said to be meaningless. Gloria Steinem, the self-appointed matriarch, holds that ‘pro-life’ feminism is “a contradiction in terms”. At ‘pro-choice’ rallies, banners have been held up stating that “a woman’s right to abortion is equivalent to her right to be”, while the US-based Fund for a Feminist Majority has defined a feminist as one who is ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-ERA’.
Yet not all agree. Pro-life feminism has emerged as a distinctive current, voicing the concerns of those who have been marginalised by the mainstream. In 1972, the US pressure group National Organisation of Women (NOW) purged from their ranks those who dissented from their stance on abortion. As a result, Feminists for Life of America (FFL) was founded.
The feminist movement has long prided itself on diversity, and differing views are encouraged on all kinds of issues. Yet abortion appears to be an exception: Angela Kennedy, former chair of the Labour Life Group, informed me that mainstream feminist publishers refused to publish an anthology of writings by ‘pro-life’ feminists. ‘Pro-choice’ supporters have written of ‘pro-life’ feminism in a critical manner, but have not allowed these women to speak for themselves. If the voices of all women count, should we not be more tolerant of nonconformity? As Mary McAleese has noted, the myth that to be a feminist is to be ‘pro-choice’ has forced many women to resign from the name of feminism.
It may come as a surprise to some that feminism was not always in favour of abortion rights – quite the contrary. Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was firmly opposed, and 19th-century feminists tended to follow in her footsteps. Susan B. Anthony, the pioneer of American feminism, viewed abortion as infanticide, a view shared by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a number of her prominent contemporaries, who looked on abortion not as being liberating, but as a tool of male oppression. As Stanton put it, when women had been treated for so long as property, it was degrading that they should treat their children as chattel. These pioneers viewed abortion as the ultimate exploitation of women, and yet were compassionate towards those who resorted to it, and reserved their scorn for those men who had used and abandoned them.
Even Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist and eugenicist, did not publicly favour abortion. Indeed, it was not regarded as a feminist issue up until the late 1960s, and it only became a shibboleth around 1970. It was at this time that the British Women’s Movement, following in NOW’s footsteps, included abortion on demand as one of their four key demands that one had to agree with in order to participate.
From the ‘pro-life’ feminist viewpoint, mainstream feminism has sold out to what is a masculine worldview. Instead of fighting for equality on their own terms, women have been forced into adapting themselves to a wombless, male world. Feminists have also capitulated to the values of the libertarian playboy, which view women as sexual objects to be used and discarded. It is no coincidence that the Playboy Foundation has been one of the biggest financers of the ‘pro-choice’ movement.
A false consensus has been drawn between Left and Right on this issue, especially in the United States, where support for abortion rights is a litmus test of one’s liberal credentials. The terrain is less heated in Britain, but abortion is still a divisive issue. Emily’s List, the all-women shortlist for Labour Party MPs, deliberately excluded ‘pro-life’ women. The criterion to be accepted as a candidate was being in favour of “a woman’s right to choose”.
Fortunately a few ‘pro-choice’ feminists are starting to recognise this. Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, expressed dismay about the exclusion of anti-abortion women from the movement. She has criticised some of the harsh rhetoric of the ‘pro-choice’ movement, and called for a “less cavalier” approach to the abortion question. Similarly, Germaine Greer concedes that the need for abortion itself is a consequence of women’s oppression, although she believes it should be available on demand. She laments the fact that a “sad and onerous duty is garbed in the rhetoric of a civil right”. And Daphne De Jong, the New Zealand feminist author, has spoken out against abortion as being violence against women.
Recently, FFL have made headway in their college outreach programme, and have obtained ‘pro-choice’ support in their campaign for the rights of pregnant students on campuses. Perhaps now the dissenting voices will start to be heard, and feminism will again provide the democratic environment it needs in order to be a force for social change.
This is an excellent article from bioethicist and anaesthetist Britan Pollard. Pollard founded and directed one of Australia’s first palliative care services. He is the author of Euthanasia; should we kill the dying? and The Challenge of Euthanasia and numerous articles in medical journals on care for the dying.
In this article pollard looks at euthanasia and the irony of the situation whereby all attempts to legalise voluntary euthanasia protect doctors from prosecution and endanger the lives of their patients.
The criminal law in Australia holds that the intentional taking of human life is a major criminal offence. This accords with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, which declares that the right to the integrity of every person’s life is equal, inherent, inviolable, inalienable and should be protected by law.
Since the intentional taking of human life is the specific aim of every euthanasia law, such a law would be unique in the following critically important ways:
- it would intend to subvert the existing law,
- it would fail to respect the principle that all are equal before the law,
- it would fail to respect the principle that all human lives have equal value and
- it would attempt to gain legal recognition for the concept of life not worth living.
This would present an impossible task, if honesty were to prevail. It would have to rely on such things as asserted but non-existent human rights, shades of deceit, inexact definitions and words or clauses allowing loose interpretations, rather than objectivity and specificity.
The push for legalised medically assisted death in Australia has now increased to the point where bills are before several State parliaments and another is before the Australian parliament to reverse the previous overturning of the Northern Territory Act. I have analysed most of the previous failed bills and noted their weaknesses. Rather than debate the pros and cons of the social role of euthanasia, I believe that members of Parliament, who have sole responsibility for making safe laws, should direct their attention to ensuring that draft euthanasia bills cannot imperil the lives of innocent people who do not wish to die.
The trouble with safeguards
It is evident that the authors of those bills have not read any of the extensive literature on this subject because they invariably include, as so-called safeguards, provisions which are known not to work in practice. A common feature of those who advocate euthanasia bills is their touching reliance on the fact that certain things will happen, just because the draft prescribes it. If that were true, no crime would ever be committed because all crime is currently forbidden by some law.
In 1958, Yale Kamisar, a renowned American professor of law in this field, wrote a seminal paper in which he listed these basic difficulties: ensuring that the person’s choice was free and adequately informed; physician error or abuse; difficult relationships between patients and their families and between doctors and their patients; difficulty in quarantining voluntary euthanasia from non-voluntary, and risks resulting from this overt breach of the traditional universal law protecting all innocent human life.
All these problems still exist and others have been added, such as the critical role of depression in decision-making and the evolution in the moral basis for requesting death from the relief of severe suffering in the terminally-ill to reliance on respect for personal autonomy. Some of these will be discussed below.
Definitions are often vague or at odds with ordinary meanings. For example, in place of ‘terminal illness’ one may find ‘incurable illness’. Many illnesses are literally incurable but do not necessarily cause death or shorten life. Pain and suffering are both highly subjective experiences, neither being able to be measured or compared between persons, while suffering is often due to social causes rather then medical. According to the drafts, both have to be simply accepted as the person describes them, even when this may raise serious doubt. And, as most now allow, if the symptoms are said to make life ‘intolerable’, even though it is recognised that what one person finds intolerable others can bear, that claim has only to be made to be incontestable. The situation then will have become virtually one of death on demand.
All bills required the doctor to be ‘satisfied’ that the patient’s request was freely made, though no one could ever know with certainty about coercion from sources of which he was totally unaware. But would coercion be likely? Brian Burdekin, a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, reported that in his experience ‘The most vulnerable were the most likely to be abused and the most likely to be coerced’. Subtle degrees of coercion would be almost impossible to detect.
If a well person asks for death he will be referred for counselling. If a sick person asks, he is as likely to be supported in his ‘exercise of personal autonomy’. And what of autonomy in the presence of severe illness, especially terminal illness, with its frequent association with depression and unrelieved pain, which powerfully hinder careful evaluation of issues?
More importantly, no matter what the patient decides, in every case it will be the doctor’s decision that determines whether euthanasia actually proceeds. Leon Kass, an eminent lawyer and prolific author in this area, wrote that, in view of the totality of the impediments to clear reasoning in such patients, ‘the ideal of rational autonomy, so beloved of bioethicists and legal theorists, rarely obtains in actual medical practice’.
Doctors are well experienced in persuading patients to follow their legitimate advice over treatment options, to the point where some have been heard to say ‘I can get my patients to do anything I want’. Their power, relative to that of the patient, is large even when there is no intention to manipulate.
Euthanasia draft bills require doctors to inform patients about the medical details of their illness and future alternatives. Since such discussions will usually occur in private, one could never know whether such information was accurate, adequate, non-coercive and impartial. If the doctor’s personal view was that euthanasia was appropriate for a patient, we may be sure some would not be deterred from advocating it.
Faulty opinion polls
A lot of publicity has lately been given to the fact that some 85 percent of respondents to opinion polls favour legalised euthanasia. This refers to the Morgan poll which has been using this question for many years: ‘If a hopelessly ill patient in great pain with absolutely no chance of recovering asks for a lethal dose, so as not to wake again, should the doctor be allowed to give the lethal dose or not?’
It is not hard to see why many respondents, whose understanding of the complex matter of euthanasia is unknown, might agree to such an emotionally charged question. Given that repeated polls have shown that most Australian doctors have not received adequate training in palliative care, and sometimes none at all, should anyone be surprised that too often pain is poorly managed?
Against that background, the poll question may be truthfully reworded ‘If a doctor is so negligent as to leave his patient in pain, severe enough to drive him to ask to be killed, should the doctor be able to compound his negligence by killing the patient, instead of seeking expert help?’ The community would be appalled to find that relatively few doctors who must care for dying patients are able to deal with severe chronic pain effectively. The only remedy for this situation will be to introduce mandatory levels of competence in palliative care training in all medical schools. In the meantime, legalising euthanasia will lead inevitably to many needless deaths. Australia has about half the palliative care specialists it needs, all of whom are in cities or big towns.
Depression and the desire to die
Too often, draft bills for euthanasia only require the doctor to obtain expert psychiatric advice if he ‘suspects’ the patient is ‘not of sound mind’, that is, has impairment of competence, which is not the key issue. The literature of psychiatry contains abundant evidence that the sustained wish to die is associated, in a large number of the seriously ill, with depression, which alters mood and inhibits the ability to reason coherently and to adequately understand the challenges they face.
Not to require consultation by a psychiatrist experienced in the treatment of dying patients whenever a sustained wish to die is encountered, is a negligent omission, especially as such depression is often difficult to diagnose. In a published retrospective review of the Northern Territory Act in its short life, it was shown that relevant psychiatric evidence had been withheld and treatable depression was missed in four of the seven patients whose lives were taken under its provisions.
The demoralising combination of depression or despair, anxiety and fear associated with a desire to die can usually be treated with a mix of empathy, psychotherapy and medication.
The usual superficial approach to this problem is in stark contrast to the following advice from expert psychiatrists: ‘No request for hastened death can be understood without first attempting to understand the psychological landscape within which the request arises’. One advised ‘Never kill yourself when you are suicidal – you are not yourself then’.
Accordingly, it has been suggested that the need for better training in the detection of profound psychological disturbance in these patients is as great as that for the relief of severe pain. Even in the Netherlands, there is awareness of past failings, as the former Dutch Health Minister in 1994-2002, Mrs Borst-Eilers, last year commented ‘The government’s move (to legalise euthanasia) was a mistake, we should have first focused on palliative care’.
Sliding from voluntary to non-voluntary
Wherever voluntary euthanasia is practised, legally or not, non-voluntary is also found, including in Australia. Many find this difficult to credit because, whatever their failings, doctors surely would not take life without any request. In fact, they do it because it seems logical. Once euthanasia for patients who are suffering and ask to be killed is regarded as providing them with a benefit, it will appear, at least to some, that it would be wrong to withhold that benefit from others who suffer as much, but who, for some reason, cannot ask. In their eyes, this would be compassionate.
Because the same rationale can be the justification for euthanasia for both groups, the extension of one to the other must be regarded as inevitable and so, will be unable to be prevented or controlled. The Dutch have long since given up trying to prevent non-voluntary euthanasia.
Protecting the powerful
Bills require the doctor to notify the Coroner, following euthanasia. Since he will be its sole author, the chief actor and the sole survivor of the event, what chance is there the doctor will include anything he would not wish the Coroner to know?
Some may have found the earlier reference to deceit too strong, but it was not. At length, the draft bill must somehow directly confront the present law which outlaws euthanasia. So, the doctor is required by the bills to certify the death as due to the underlying illness, that is, to lie (though falsifying a death certificate is currently a punishable offence), and the death is not to be regarded, for the purposes of the Act, as any form of homicide, even though it was unquestionably homicide. Truth must yield to weasel words for these bills to succeed.
After euthanasia, the doctor may not be subject to any civil or criminal action, nor to any penalty or loss of privilege by any professional body. With only a few exceptions, every medical association in the world holds that euthanasia is forbidden to doctors because it is unethical, that is, morally wrong. Australian State governments establish Medical Boards and Medical Tribunals to regulate medical practice and they all regard medical life-taking as deserving of deregistration because those doctors are no longer fit to practise, on ethical grounds. These clauses in the bills are included without the consent or authority of the regulators, who regard them as necessary to protect patients against attacks on their lives, in recognition of their genuine human rights.
Just now, when it is being more widely recognised that there is a need for more emphasis on ethics in many areas of moral significance, the supporters of euthanasia want to dispense with them altogether. It may be wondered what benefits the community can expect to gain from having unethical doctors.
In conclusion, when all euthanasia draft bills so far put before the State parliaments over many years are reviewed, it can be observed that they go to extreme lengths to shield the doctor from the effects of current law, no matter what he or she may have done negligently or by omission, while including many opportunities for endangering the lives of patients who did not want their life ended.
In justice, it is the vulnerable who need protection, not the powerful. This danger is exactly what all the large committees of inquiry into the consequences of legalising euthanasia have predicted in their published reports, even those which included some members who were in favour of euthanasia. No other reasoned conclusion was available to them after extensive oral and written evidence had been taken from a wide range of community and professional sources. Every law to permit euthanasia will be inherently and unavoidably unsafe.
Cross posted from the Culture Vulture
Cross posted from Cradle of Hope:
From X-Factor Australia, Iraqi-born Emmanuel Kelly tells the beautiful pro-life story of his rescue and adoption. When he and his brother were found as infants, they had no birth certificates and had been severely injured. Both were eventually adopted by their Australian mother, whom Kelly speaks of during his audition:
“I was born in the middle of a war zone. My brother and I were found by nuns in a box in a park, in a shoebox … It was like looking at an angel when my mum walked through the orphanage door. She brought us both to Australia for surgery originally, and then, sort of, mum fell in love with both of us. My hero would have to be my mother.”
Watch the full audition below:
Cross posted from the London Telegraph:
Hospitals could be forbidden from telling expectant mothers the sex of their unborn babies, following a ruling in Europe. Medical workers should be instructed to “withhold information about the foetus” according to a draft resolution by the Council of Europe committee. The measure aims to discourage parents from “selectively aborting” foetuses (usually female) as a way of “choosing” the sex of their child. Parenting groups expressed concern about the change, and doctors said the proposals were impracticable. Selective abortions have become strikingly common in some former Soviet states that are members of the Council – in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Albania, the ratio is 112 boys for 100 girls.
The draft resolution calls for an investigation of the causes for skewed birth ratios in these countries. It says prenatal sex selection should only be permitted in order to evade serious hereditary diseases which are specific to one sex. While directed at these countries in particular, the recommendation includes all 47 states of the Council.
Dr Gillian Lockwood, of Midland Fertility Services, told The London Telegraph that it would be difficult for hospitals to heed the advice, because parents can determine the sex of the child for themselves by looking at the scans. She said that most parents she had seen were not desperate to have a child of a particular sex. Rather, she said most wanted to know so they could paint their nursery, buy appropriate clothes, or tell other children they have a brother or sister.
Justine Roberts of parenting website Mumsnet said expectant couples would be “pretty angry and disappointed” if a ban on all gender identification is enacted. Mrs Roberts said expectant parents seek to know the sex of their children for practical reasons, such as finding out whether they can share a room. She said: “I can understand that there may be problems in some parts of the world with sex selection, but it seems ridiculous to apply the thinking to countries where this has not been shown to be a problem.”
A UK Department of Health spokesman said decisions on whether or not to disclose information on the sex of a child should be “based on the clinical judgment of the certainty of the test and the individual circumstances of each case.”
Here’s an excellent post cross posted from the Culture Vulture.
I watched with interest earlier this week as person after person on Facebook posted the story about the Canadian mother who has just been given a suspended sentence after being found guilty of strangling her newborn son several years ago when she was only 19 years old.
The reason I have resisted commenting on this particular case until now is because we simply don’t know enough about the mental health and personal situation of this woman at the time that this horrific act took place, and therefore passing judgment on this situation would seem to be premature, and based on only partial facts.
I am also not convinced that this case represents the beginning of legalized infanticide, or the practical outworking of Peter Singer’s ideologies in regard to the acceptability of killing infants – remember this woman was actually found guilty of infanticide in this case, and she was sentenced, it’s just that the judge opted to hand down a suspended sentence, rather than require her to serve time in jail.
Once again, until we actually know more about the psychological state of this woman then it is still too early to say whether the judge’s actions are justified in this case or not.
I also think that we need to be very careful about how we link the issue of abortion with this case.
Yes, the judge concerned did make remarks about abortion in her ruling on this case, but I’m not sure that her comments justify headlines such as “Shock: No jail time for woman who strangled newborn because Canada accepts abortion, says judge“.
This headline clearly indicates that the judge in this case didn’t hand out any jail time to this woman based the reason that “Canada accepts abortion”, however the judges actual remarks, which are quoted later in this same article, don’t seem to support such an assertion.
Here are the judges’ remarks…
“while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support… Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother”
As you can see, what the judge is actually saying here is that Canadians sympathize with the difficulties that motherhood, especially unsupported motherhood presents in the life of a woman.
The judge clearly views these difficulties as a justification for abortion (as would many Canadians), which is an assertion that I don’t all consider to be valid, however, I don’t see how the judge is proposing that she believes that they are also a justification for this infanticide – instead what the judges’ remarks actually indicate is that such extenuating circumstances must be taken into consideration when responding to this crime.
And this is precisely why I think we need to know more about the actual psychological and emotional state of this woman during her pregnancy and subsequent birth.
If there is reliable evidence to show that this woman was of sound mind when she carried out this act, then obviously the judge has made a massive and grave error in judgment here, however, if the evidence shows that this woman was psychologically unbalanced when she carried out this act, then surely any person of goodwill would have to support the actions of the judge in this case, even if we don’t agree with her statement suggesting that hardship justifies abortion?
I think that it is also important to note that almost all other Canadian cases involving infanticide have resulted in this same outcome, that is; non-custodial sentences being handed down to the guilty party – so the suggestions that the outcome in this case represents a massive new change in how infanticide is treated in Canada are not actually correct at all.
Having said that, I do think that this case does shine the spotlight on abortion, particularly the issue of the ethical inconsistency that is used to try and justify legal abortion, while at the same time oppose legalised infanticide.
You see, almost all of the arguments used to try and justify abortion could also be used to support legalized infanticide, because, apart from age and location, the newborn infant finds itself in an almost identical state of existence as the unborn human being does – it cannot sustain itself, it does not have self-awareness, it cannot reason and it places huge bodily demands upon its mother.
I would humbly suggest that this is an inconsistency that must be pressed by the pro-life movement, and which demands an answer from those who oppose infanticide while at the same time supporting abortion.
Cross posted from Margaret Somerville at Mercatornet.
Just when some scientists are on the cusp of discovering a drug for treating people with Down syndrome, others are busy refining the technology which will make them disappear completely. A feature in the New York Times Magazinerecently highlighted the work of Alberto Costa, a 48-year-old physician and neuroscientist at University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine. He has started a clinical trial on young adults to see if the drug memantine helps them become “smarter”. It is the first randomized clinical trial ever to take a drug that worked in mice with Down syndrome and apply it to humans.
If successful, it could be of enormous help for the 6,000 children who are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. But Dr Costa faces an uphill battle for funding.
Down syndrome children are being aborted so fast that funding bodies think that there is little point in looking for a cure. “The geneticists expect Down syndrome to disappear,” Costa says, “so why fund treatments?” He fears that new quick non-invasive diagnostic tests will lead almost all women to abort Down syndrome children.
“It’s like we’re in a race against the people who are promoting those early screening methods. These tests are going to be quite accessible. At that point, one would expect a precipitous drop in the rate of birth of children with Down syndrome. If we’re not quick enough to offer alternatives, this field might collapse.”
Current estimates are that in North America around 90 percent of unborn babies with Down syndrome are aborted and the same is true in European countries. A report from Denmark characterized “eliminating Down syndrome” (sic: people with Down syndrome) as a move towards creating a “perfect society”. The ethics issues prenatal screening raises will only become more prevalent as the range of tests expands, they become safer for the pregnant woman and cheaper and easier to use, and many are presented as routine precautions in medically managing a pregnancy.
The most recent announcement concerning a prenatal test is identification of a baby’s sex at seven weeks of pregnancy. This raises fears of sex selection, which many people regard as unethical, at least when not carried out for serious medical reasons.
As we can see in India and China, where sex selection through abortion and infanticide has resulted in many millions of missing girls, the decisions of individuals have a cumulative effect on society, itself. For instance, many young men in those countries cannot find a wife and abuse of women is augmented.
The recent riots in England also provide an analogy: one person acting aggressively or a small group of people rioting is different in kind, not just degree, from a very large number doing so, although both situations may raise many of the same ethical and legal issues. The same is true of individuals “choosing” their children. So what limits should we place on their doing so in the interests of society and the harmful impact it would have on our shared values?
Widespread, publicly endorsed and paid-for pre-natal screening to eliminate people with certain conditions, for instance, Down syndrome, implicates, among other values, those of respect for both individual human life and human life in general; and respect for “disabled” (differently-abled) people, both as individuals and as a group.
The implementation of negative eugenics with respect to disabled people is the unavoidable collective impact of these screening-based decisions. As harsh as the language is, we can be described it as a “search and destroy” mission to wipe out certain groups of people.
And where might society supporting such screening lead? For instance, what would endorsing a belief that a society without disabled people can be considered “perfect” say about us? What kind of society might it result in?
We have unprecedented new technoscience powers and history teaches us that the use of science in the search for human perfection has been at the root of some of the greatest atrocities in terms of respect for human life, individual humans and human rights.
Offering prenatal screening as a routine procedure communicates a message that a woman is conditionally pregnant, until she is told there is “nothing wrong” with the baby — until the fetus is certified as “normal” — or it is the “right sex”. This approach contravenes our concept of parental love – that it is unconditional – that we love our children just because they are our children.
The societal level message we will unavoidably be delivering is that “We don’t want you in our society unless you measure up to a certain genetic or other standard. You are only a potential member, until you’ve passed the admission test that we are willing to pay for with our tax dollars and implement”.
And what about the “everyday ethics” involved in screening? Far from all physicians are competent to obtain informed consent to these tests and carry out follow up genetic counseling.
For many reasons, physicians tend to be very pessimistic in predicting the impact, for instance, of Down syndrome on the child and usually see no possible benefits from having such a child – they can be astonished to learn of the joy, bonding and love such a child can bring to a family.
One cause of their ignorance is that the people who could inform them otherwise are silenced. As Audrey Cole, a remarkable advocate for the rights of disabled people and the mother of a 47 year old man with Down syndrome wrote to me, “Our voice [against eliminating people with Down syndrome] will, inevitably, be dismissed as the whinings of a ‘special interest’ group. I have never been able to understand why my feelings as a parent of a wonderful, caring, gentle man can be so easily dismissed as “special interest.” I am frightened of the times that seem to be coming.”
And, how will women who refuse screening be regarded? What will be the impact on families who “choose” not to abort when “abnormalities” are discovered? Will they be seen as socially irresponsible? That belief, in itself, creates a climate of coercion not to proceed with the pregnancy.
Perhaps, in deciding about the ethics of prenatal screening we should recall it’s true for all of us that “the well are only the undiagnosed sick” and we are thankful that no one “deselected” us.
Cross posted from the Culture Vulture.
Owen Strachan has posted a great article on his blog about the discomfort that readers of the New York Times have expressed about an article which discussed the practice of aborting one twin in a multiple pregnancy situation (euphemistically known as ‘pregnancy reduction’).
Interestingly, while this practice is just making the mainstream media now, it isn’t actually something new and it has been going on (even here in NZ) for many years.
Here’s what Owen had to say…
Those who read about the New York Times magazine story on “pregnancy reductions” (a euphemism for the abortion of one or more gestating babies) on this and other blogs might find this graphic from the NYT interesting.
It’s a bit hard to make out (click here for the link to the graphic), but it shows that a majority of commenters on the Times‘s website found the story hard to bear. The commenters are undoubtedly from a wide range of backgrounds, but the range of responses recorded to the left show a profound discomfort with the practice of “reducing” twins from a mother’s womb. This response is heartening. Part of comprehending the world aright is being unsettled by ghastly things.
Also worth noting: 21 people responded by noting that they are twins and “couldn’t imagine life without their twin.” I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to bear the continual memory of a child aborted in the womb, let alone to be visibly reminded of this abortion on a daily basis by the presence of the living twin. In the smile, the childish ebullience, the sleeping face of one’s child, one would always see the frail image of another, departed brother or sister. This sounds like the subject material of a particularly dark work of fiction, but it is not. It is the reality for a growing numbers of dads and moms.
Ghosts are not real, but they can almost be real.
I am reminded of the chilling scene from The Pianist when, awaiting deportation to Treblinka, a mother wails, for hours and hours, “Why did I do it?” She had smothered her baby to avoid being discovered by Nazi guards and was haunted to the point of insanity by her decision. I think modern parents choosing “pregnancy reduction” may face such realities…
Here’s an excellent article to finish of the week cross posted from Mercatornet.
Encomiums in honour of Steve Jobs have been flowing freely the past week following his resignation as CEO of Apple, the company which he co-founded in the 1970s and which has showered magical devices upon an enchanted world. He has been acclaimed as “the Thomas Edison of this century”, “the da Vinci of our time” and, less grandly, “a latter-day Marshall McLuhan”. Jobs himself hasimplied comparisons with figures as diverse as Gandhi and Bob Dylan. Perhaps the writer who cuts him down to size as “the IT world’s only rock star” has a point, but the majority opinion seems to be that the man is a genius.
What the media has left out, on the whole, is where all this genius came from. There have been stories mentioning his family background but these have been mere sideshows to the retrospectives on Jobs’ extraordinary career. None of that drama might have happened, however, if a young, unwed graduate student back in 1955 had not offered her unplanned baby for adoption.
If her father had not objected to her Syrian boyfriend, Joanne Simpson might have married Abdulfattah John Jandali then and there (instead of later, after her dad died) and Steve Jobs’ story might have been completely different. He could still have been a genius, but he might never have met Steve Wozniak, sat in on calligraphy classes or founded Apple. He might have been a brilliant lawyer or politician — or a mediocre one. We don’t know.
What we do know is that millions of people around the world have fallen in love with Apple’s creations: the Macintosh (it was the first computer I ever used and its mouse and icons seemed ever so cute), the iMac, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad. That Apple under his leadership went from two guys in a garage to a $2 billion dollar Silicon Valley company in 10 years. That it currently employs50,000 people. That in the last 14 years, since Jobs returned to the company, his sense of what makes technology desirable has led from one triumph to another, until early this month Apple briefly overtook Exxon Mobil to become the world’s most valuable company.
And don’t forget Pixar, Jobs’ Hollywood project that put smiles on the faces of countless millions with computer-animated movie hits such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
Not everyone is in love with Steve Jobs, of course. From the colleagues who engineered his departure from Apple in 1986 to iPad users who can’t use Adobe Flash Player on their favourite gadget, he has upset many people over the years. He has been called smug, wilful, bad-tempered, a micro-manager, someone who takes credit for other people’s inventions, who drives around without licence plates and parks his Mercedes in handicapped peoples spaces. Both the music and publishing industries only reluctantly accepted his monopolistic terms for giving access to their products through Apple devices. His backdating of stock options has caused scandal — as also has his apparent absence from the philanthropy scene (an exception being a $100,000 donation to the pro-same-sex marriage, anti-Prop 8 campaign in California in 2008).
Even his critics, however, acknowledge his shrewdness, his uncanny sense of where technology can move next, and when it should. As Fortune magazine said three years ago, Jobs was not only regarded as the most successful CEO around, he had “even become a global cultural guru, shaping what entertainment we watch, how we listen to music, and what sort of objects we use to work and play. He has changed the game for entire industries.”
How different the world would look without Steve Jobs. Yet, if he had been conceived just 20 years later, in the wake of Roe v Wade and with another iconic American enterprise — Planned Parenthood — doing a brisk trade in abortions, it might well have missed out on him. In the 1950s, however, abortion was illegal and probably Joanne Simpson never gave it a thought. When things got complicated at home she quietly went off to San Francisco to have the baby and give him up for adoption.
Here is the story as Steve Jobs told it in a commencement address at Stanford University in June 2005. His birth mother, he said,
felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
Despite his dominance in the Apple empire, Jobs has always depended on the genius and commitment of other people as well as his own. In his birth mother we meet the most important of these people — a woman who not only respected her child’s life but wanted to give him the best chance in life that she could think of in her circumstances. She thought it out, laid down her conditions, and took responsibility for what she had begun.
Fast forward to today’s college campus, awash with contraceptives and safe-sex propaganda, where a girl who gets pregnant will find a ready offer of an abortion and is likely to take it up without much consideration of what her options really are.
How many people of genius have never seen the light of day because it is now taken for granted that an unintended pregnancy is necessarily an unwanted child?
Fifty-six years ago, it’s true, the baby who became known as Steve Jobs was rejected at the last minute by the lawyer couple who had signed up to adopt Ms Simpson’s child. But there was a working-class couple, Clara and Paul Jobs, who just wanted a baby. Period. They were good people who, when the moment came, were prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to send him to college. There are still a lot of people like that around, only they don’t get the chance to adopt because most of the inconvenient babies are destroyed. Infertile couples have to go offshore to find a child, sometimes by very dubious processes. What a difference a few decades can make; what a sad difference.
In his address to the Stanford students Steve Jobs told three stories: the first was about the serendipity that “connected the dots” between his dropping out of college and designing the first Mac. The second was about “love and loss” — mainly about the love for his work that has inspired and energised his professional life. Crucially, it was also what made him able to start again after being “fired” from his own company in 1986 and becoming “a very public failure”.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
This included his marriage to Laurene Powell, with whom he has three children.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.
Jobs’ third story was a bit like the second. It was also about loss: about getting cancer, confronting his own mortality and deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Since then, with a reprieve from his illness, he has led Apple to new heights of innovation and market eminence, making the company the flagship of a flagging economy.
Is it fanciful to think that the example set by his biological mother helped him not only to begin again after that early episode of public failure, but also to confront the possibility of an early death with realism and even optimism? Probably. And yet, there is a similar spirit evident in the way mother and son handled their respective crises. Focus on life and get on with it, is what they seem to tell us.
Think different, the Apple campaign of the late 1990s urged. If there is one issue on which today’s civil and political leaders need to think differently it is the value of a human being. The urge to prevent births which has been upon them for the past 60 years has delivered a sickly economy and a notable lack of truly visionary leaders. They should think carefully about the Steve Jobs phenomenon and learn.