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Monday, May 30, 2016

WHY ARE WE HERE?

                                             Miraculous Conception                                  
     
       Readers of Lennart Nillson's A Child is Born (Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 1977) can only marvel at the profligate randomness of the process that leads to human existence.  To be one of a million eggs, fertilized by a sole sperm in a swarm of billions . . . the mind boggles at the chanciness of it all.  No matter how far back we trace our biological roots, each ancestral egg had to be in the right place at the right time.  
       It's awesome to realize that the world's population today, all cousins, as Carl Sagan pointed out, would be a totally different population if a distant ancestor had failed to impregnate his mate when he necessarily had to for our lineage to develop as it did.  That small side-step ("I've got a head-ache") way back when, would have negated all of our ancestors, all of us cousins, and led to a totally different world-family tree.
       Instead, here we all are, thanks to a coincidental chain of conceptions, each new life growing up to mate and reproduce until this sequence of descendants led of the cradles of our mothers and fathers.  If Mom and Dad hadn't happened to meet, we wouldn't be here.  If their moms and dads hadn't met, they wouldn't be here, and so on.    
      The odds against any particular person being born are something like a billion quadrillion to one.  There's a lottery for you.  What could be more miraculous than the random migration of ancestral genes from branch to branch of a family tree, finally culminating in a small head—a very special small head, if it happens to be yours.     
      On the other hand, babies being born and people populating the earth are as ordinary as rainfall.  It only becomes extraordinary when you ponder on the haphazard circumstances that lead to any particular person.  Or puppy dog.  Or porpoise.

Humanist ethics and the case for genetic screening             

      On January 11, 1981, a television program on genetic screening was aired.  Humanist philosopher Joseph Fletcher expressed his positive outlook on situation ethics.  Humanism, in his view, puts human interest or benefit before moral rules.  "A humanist is morally bound to say, for example, `It is better to end this pregnancy than to bear a baby with Tay-Sachs disease.'  The humanist cannot say, `That's too bad, but abortion is wrong.'"The nay-sayers insist that this is murder, pure and simple.  For those who disagree, the question is not so simple. 
      There are countless healthy children who owe their existence to the abortion of a predictably brain-damaged or otherwise malformed predecessor.  Why would anyone wish on parents the lifelong grief of a cruelly flawed child, when science has made this a forseeable and avoidable tragedy?
      Decades ago there were doctors who mercifully and quietly (or unmercifully and immorally, depending on your point of view) allowed monstrously deformed newborns to expire.  They didn't feel that mistakes of nature must be saved at any cost -- nor does Nature herself, who commonly aborts such mistakes by way of miscarriages. 
      Parents presented with a hopelessly malformed infant had two options:  they could attempt to cope at home with lifelong care or they could place the child in an institution.  Generally, the latter course was urged upon them by their doctors, who knew well what a toll the other option would take. 
      Nationwide there are vast numbers of understaffed back wards where severely limited men, women, and children live degrading lives that most of us would rather not even contemplate.  Yes, there are a few heroic individuals whose dedication has been portrayed in TV documentaries.  But they are as rare as other heroes and heroines, like Helen Keller, Christy Brown, and Joseph Merrick, the elephant man.  For every Christy Brown there are tens of thousands of genetically deprived individuals who will never be able to escape the trap of their own bodies and the squalor of their surroundings.
An abortion irony
      There is another pro-choice argument that might startle pro-life proponents, who often say, "Suppose your mother had aborted you?"  I doubt if even one of them recognizes that thousands of us are here because our mothers or grandmothers had abortions.  This is an incontrovertible fact.
       Prior to the legalization of abortions, an estimated million a year were performed illegally.  Some desperate women and teenagers became sterile or even died as a result.  Large numbers, however, eventually had children they would not have had if, instead of having an abortion, they had dropped out of school, for example, and given birth to the unplanned child.  They might well have had other children, but not the same children they had if they postponed motherhood in favor of finishing high school or college.
       To reiterate a basic fact of life, timing is of the essence in the conception of any individual.  Every human being is the result of a particular sperm uniting with a particular egg at a particular time in a particular month.  
      Consider this scenario:  A woman plans to be married in June.  Through a mistake she regrets, she becomes pregnant in December while her fiancé is overseas in the armed forces.  She sees no solution but to seek an illegal abortion.  After her marriage, she becomes pregnant in July.  
      Here is where timing comes in.  If she had chosen not to have an abortion, she would be seven months pregnant in July.  Therefore it would be impossible for her to conceive the child that was actually born the following April.  Obviously it would also be impossible for the non-existent April baby to grow up and say to a pro-choice advocate, "Suppose your mother had aborted you?"  Ironically, that April baby would be here because his or her mother had an abortion.  
      Multiply cases similar to these by thousands a year in illegal-abortion days, and the irony is compounded.  One wonders how many Pro-Lifers who insist on the sanctity of the embryo might have second thoughts, were they cognizant of their own biological histories.
      Women who have children they love but who still feel remorse over an abortion earlier in their lives ought to consider what would have happened if they had not had the abortion.  Their lives would have gone in a different direction, and it is astronomically out of the question that they would have conceived any of the children they currently have.  So why waste energy on guilt?  They took a step that seemed right to them at the time, a step that paved the way for the exact moment required to conceive each of the children they now cherish. 
      A nineteen-year-old mother called a Boston talk show, wishing to share her feelings on the subject of abortion.  She confessed that she had had three by the time she was fifteen.  Now she was the mother of a three-year-old girl.  When her daughter was older, she said, she would tell her how sorry she was that she had had the abortions.      
      It didn't occur to the caller that if she had carried any or all of her pregnancies to term, she wouldn’t have been able to conceive this particular baby in exactly the right month at exactly the right time.     
      If women who are remorseful about their abortions could "go back to the future" and reverse their decisions, they would indeed give life to babies they previously felt unable or unready to cope with.  At the same time they would be setting up the non-existence of the children they presently have and love and are able to nurture.      
      Thousands of mothers could shock their pro-life children with the assertion:  "I once had an abortion that changed the course of my life.  If I hadn't had it, you wouldn't have been born to grow up and tell pro-choice men and women that they are advocating murder."  What a bombshell it would be if these mothers and grandmothers came out of the closet and set the record straight.
      In 1988, in his book Science and the Unborn: Choosing Human Futures, Dr. Clifford Grobstein took a sensitive look at the status of pre-embryos, embryos, and the unborn.  On Page 76 he asks the question:  " . . . how does one consult a pre-embryo [about its own welfare?]"  Several years earlier I had attempted to do just that with a few jottings on a notepad.  Dr. Grobstein's book inspired me to expand on my thoughts and incorporate his insights on the value of pre-embryos for medical research.
     The Vatican's position is unequivocal.  Human life must be absolutely respected and protected from the moment of conception.  But what if a stem-cell or pre-embryo could speak?

 A tumultuous clamoring interrupts the woman's thoughts.  It seems to be coming from inside her body.
Woman:  Who is calling me?
Ova:  We are the multitude of ova inhabiting your ovaries, each of us awaiting a possible journey.
W:  Why are you shouting?  You sound distressed.
Ova:  We are!  We are being misrepresented on a matter of vital importance.
W:  Please don't all talk at once.
Ovum:  I have been nominated as spokes-potential person.  Call me Ovum.
W:  What is troubling you, Ovum?
Ovum:  We want to speak for ourselves on the question of stem-cell research.  We unanimously endorse it.
W:  But there seem to be so many valid objections.
Ovum:  From our point of view, there are no objections.  Put yourself in our place.  Would you rather be one of a million or so ova whom nature might select for possible but unlikely fertilization?  Or would you prefer to be one of several selected by a scientist seeking cures for the ailments that beset mankind.
W:  But right-to-life advocates and other groups are appalled at the idea of using human life for research.  They are only thinking of you, they say.
Ovum:  They mean well, but they are doing us a disservice.  We would welcome the chance to be useful to humanity.  We come from a state of unawareness and will remain in a state of unawareness while our tissues contribute to medical science.  We don't have eyes to cry over our fate.  We don't have a brain to think sad thoughts or envy fellow pre-embryos who won the miraculous conception lottery.  "C'est la vie!" we would say, if we had a larynx.  And if we had a heart, it would be thankful for our expanded existence as helpmates for the human race.
W:  I hear a million voices again.  What are they saying?
Ovum:  "Come on in, doctor, we're looking forward to the chance of a lifetime!"
     An article in the Boston Globe (Parade Magazine, 1-14-90) presented pro and con arguments regarding the use of embryos in research.  Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, insisted that human embryos were human beings whose lives should not be used in scientific experiments.  "You don't kill an innocent person.  Science has advanced beyond its moral limits."
     On the other hand, Father Richard McCormick, professor of Christian ethics at Notre Dame University argued that "a good case could be made for pre-embryo research if it promised great medical benefits not otherwise attainable."  Father McCormick believed a national ethics board should be appointed to consider this vital question. 
     Would that "Ovum," potential spokesperson, could serve on such a board.

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