Thursday, October 23, 2003

I got into a brief argument with a friend at work yesterday. He's young and brimming with certainty, having only recently left the shelter of a conservative Christian upbringing. He believes, for instance, that the United States is a Christian nation, and that George W. Bush is a hero and an honest man. It is an unfortunate fact that folks who believe as he does are all too often manipulated, so I'm trying to equip him with the necessary stores of cynicism and critical faculties to get him through life with at least a minimum level of autonomy.

Anyway, the argument was about 'partial birth abortion' and the Terry Schiavo case. Being the good liberal that I am, I felt the need to actually research and find out the facts. And I can sort of understand his perspective, particularly when it comes to outlawing intact dilation and extraction (the actual medical name for the procedure some call "partial birth abortion"). I spent a good part of last night talking with friends about pregnancy and birth (there's a small epidemic of pregnancies passing through my acquaintances), and I challenge anyone to go from the miracle of birth to the horrors of intact D&E without feeling nauseated. But every medical expert I've read agrees that D&E is the best way to deal with a pregancy gone horribly wrong, and an intact D&E is the safest form of the procedure. But it's viscerally disgusting, and if you've trained your brain to hear "baby" every time a doctor says "fetus", it sounds like something only a demon would do.

All you have to do is forget that we're not talking about women who suddenly decide, at eight and a half months, that they don't feel like changing diapers. We're talking about women who find out that their baby has a congenital defect and will most likely be stillborn, and that the process of giving birth could very damage their bodies to the point that having another, healthy child becomes out of the question. An intact D&E is their best, safest hope for having healthy kids someday, but now it's illegal so that some hypocrite in the Senate can tell his constituents that he's more "pro-life" than the other guy. Congratulations, guys, for drafting a law which won't save a single human life, but may well destroy a half-dozen or so, all for the benefit of political posturing.

And then there's Terry Schiavo. She's in a persistent vegetative state and has been on life support for 13 years. Her husband says she never wanted this, her parents say they never heard her say that, Florida courts have sided with the husband, and the executive and legislative branches have jumped in to keep the machines going. Moral, upstanding citizens across the country have stood up to say what they think is the right thing to do based on the five minute summary of the case they heard in church. I've heard just gems as "the husband already has a girlfriend..." and "do we even know how she ended up in a coma? I think it's suspicious that we're not hearing more about that."

Here are the facts: Her heart stopped in 1990 due to a chemical imbalance. She never woke up. Independent doctors have examined her and concluded that her brain damage is so severe that there is, barring a miracle, no chance of her waking up. And by "barring a miracle", I really do mean miracle. And as far as "he already has a girlfriend", well it's been 13 years since his wife went into a coma. Try that out for a while, see how you do.

A couple of years ago, my parents decided it was time for them to leave their church. In the middle of it all, my dad said something that really struck me, "Last week, at Calvary, the minister was talking about morality, and doing the right thing, and everything he was saying was about what 'they' should do. It was all about other people. This week, at First Lutheran, it was the same topic, but it was all about what 'we' should do. I like that a lot better."

So my take on the Schiavo case is this: My heart goes out to her husband, her parents, the doctors, the judges, and everybody else who has to come to some kind of decision. I'm grateful as hell I haven't had to deal with that kind of pain and grief, and I am steadfast in my belief that it's none of my damn business.

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