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Monday, February 26, 2007

My soapbox

I read this today, it was written over 18 years ago. Unfortunately, it is still appropriate for today's reader. May it not be so in another 18 years....

Author: Elisabeth ElliotSource: On Asking God WhyScripture: Psalm 139
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When I Was Being Made In Secret
As I drove into the yard a boy of nine raced across the lawn with his new golden retriever puppy on a training lead.
"Aunt Betty! This is Bucky! We just got him!" Within the next few minutes, I heard all about Bucky and about Charles's new collections of stamps, baseball cards, and toy cars (among them a police car, a space vehicle, a green hatchback, a Volkswagen with oversize tires, and a model of "Le Car"), as well as about his golf lessons ("I got a set of clubs, too!"), tennis lessons ("Look at my new racquet!"), the Christmas cards he is selling in order to win prizes, and about sleeping on the screened porch in a sleeping bag.
Nothing extraordinary or astonishing about this nine-year-old. He's lively, he has a very wide grin, he wears ragged cutoffs, and he even chopped up his shirt with scissors (collar and sleeves were too hot, he explained). His blond hair sticks out in funny places, and his striped tennis shoes seem as clumsily huge as Mickey Mouse's always did.
But yesterday when I visited this charming nephew of mine I thought of some people I saw last month when I went to a hospital in Mississippi to visit my new granddaughter Elisabeth. I peered eagerly through the nursery window along with all the other grandmothers and the smug fathers. "Ours" was shown to us by the nurse, a beautiful tiny thing clenching her perfect fists. I gazed as enthralled as though I had never seen a newborn child, as though Elisabeth were the first of her kind ever to appear to mystify and bewitch and melt the soul of a grandmother.
It was at the back of the nursery that I saw the people who affected me very differently but also very deeply. They were extremely small. A nurse thrust her hands into built-in rubber gloves in the side of an incubator and ever so gently lifted a little creature that looked infinitely more fragile and helpless than our baby, a "preemie" of perhaps two and a half pounds. He was one of several in incubators, and as I watched them lying there, eyes bandaged against the heat lamp, moving and breathing in their plastic boxes, I thought of Charles, who was just such a baby nine years ago. Born three months early, he was not expected to make it through the first night.
Earnestly prayed for by his parents and many others, cared for continuously by many hands as gentle as those of the nurse I watched in Mississippi, he survived.
Not long ago I saw a picture which will remain ineradicable in my mind: a black plastic garbage bag which contained what was left of the morning's work in one city hospital--four or five babies, some of them the size of Charles when he was born, some of them larger. They were rejects.
Who is it that makes the "selections"? Who may determine which tiny person is acceptable and may be permitted to be born (and if necessary, hovered over, cradled in a sterile temperaturecontrolled incubator to assist his survival), and which is unacceptable and may be treated as a cancer or a gangrenous growth and surgically or chemically removed? What perverted vision of "life enhancement" warrants such a choice?
Gloria Steinem appeared on television recently to speak about what she calls "pro-choice." What she did not say, what no proponent of abortion ever says, is that the choice they defend is the choice to kill people. Babies are people, but the U. S. Supreme Court has decreed that certain people, if they are young enough and helpless enough, may be killed.
Another choice which the courts and modern liberality and morality permit us to make is the choice of a tasteful vocabulary. To begin with, the rejects I saw in the plastic bag are not babies, they are not people, they are, if small enough and unrecognizable enough, merely "tissue" or, as ethicist Charles Curran puts it, "the matter involved in the research." If undeniably identifiable, they are but the "products of conception." Well, so is Charles. So am I.
Words most assiduously to be avoided are "kill" and "murder." They were also avoided by the physicians who supervised the "selections" in Nazi concentration camps. Heirs to Europe's proudest medical traditions, they resorted to complicated mental gymnastics to provide moral and scientific legitimacy for Hitler's crazed racial and biological notions. In a world forty years advanced from those barbarities we speak of freedom, of the liberation of women, of the right over our own bodies-- viewing ourselves as emancipated and enlightened while we sink into ever more diabolical (though always finely calculated and carefully rationalized) modes of self-worship and idolatry.
When anyone has the indelicacy to call a spade a spade (i.e., an abortion a murder) he is accused (as in Time, July 30, 1979) of "hateful propaganda, harassment, disregard of other people's civil rights…an attempt to force [his] own perception of morality on everyone else.'' It was Uta Landy, executive director of the National Abortion Federation in New York, who wrote that.
Shall we, like those idealists in Germany, in order to evade the real horror, invoke such forms of self-delusion and insist on innocuous and deceptive terms like "procedure'' or "loss" instead of "killing," or "tissue" for "child"? While we pharisaically deplore Malaysia's management of the pitiful "boat people" (the Home Affairs Minister, Ghazali bin Shafie, said, "The Vietnamese keep throwing rubbish into our gardens''), we rationalize and legalize--we even feel it our duty to facilitate and finance--the disposal of tens of thousands of--what shall we call them if not people?
I could not miss the ironies of The New Yorker's editorializing about Malaysia. Not many months ago it threw up its hands in horror at those who would oppose "the right to choose" abortion. Now it points out that it is the policy of our government to favor human rights around the world, yet "one of earth's peoples is being set adrift on the high seas, and in the whole wide world there is no dependable place of refuge."
Let us who claim to accept moral responsibility for refugees and the world's rejects remember that another of earth's peoples is being "selected," shall we say, for annihilation. We are accused of insensitivity if we mention the black plastic garbage bags or saline burning or the intrauterine dismemberment of gestating human beings, but in the whole wide world is there for them "no dependable place of refuge''?
Let us consider these things in quietness before God who sees them all. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me…my frame was not hidden from thee when I was being made in secret…Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them…See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Copyright© 1989, by Elisabeth

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