In April, I linked to a New York Times Magazine article about the “reduction” procedure, which aborts some but not all of the unborn babies that a woman is carrying. Particularly controversial are those procedures that go from twins to a single child.
Today, I read some other links relating to that article and wanted to share them as well:
There are three broad camps in contemporary debates over bioethics. In the name of human rights and human dignity, “bio-conservatives” tend to support restricting, regulating and stigmatizing the technologies that allow us to create, manipulate and destroy embryonic life. In the name of scientific progress and human freedom, “bio-libertarians” tend to oppose any restrictions on what individuals, doctors and researchers are allowed to do. Then somewhere in between are the anguished liberals, who are uncomfortable with what they see as the absolutism of both sides, and who tend to argue that society needs to decide where to draw its bioethical lines not based on some general ideal (like “life” or “choice”), but rather case by case by case — accepting this kind of abortion but not that kind; this use of embryos but not that use; existing developments in genetic engineering but not, perhaps, the developments that await us in the future.
The liberal camp includes many thinkers I admire, and it has produced some of the more eloquent reflections on biotechnology’s implications for human affairs. But at least in the United States, the liberal effort to (as the Goodman of 1980 put it) “monitor” and “debate” and “control” the development of reproductive technologies has been extraordinarily ineffectual. From embryo experimentation to selective reduction to the eugenic uses of abortion, liberals always promise to draw lines and then never actually manage to draw them. Like Dr. Evans, they find reasons to embrace each new technological leap while promising to resist the next one — and then time passes, science marches on, and they find reasons why the next moral compromise, too, must be accepted for the greater good, or at least tolerated in the name of privacy and choice. You can always count on them to worry, often perceptively, about hypothetical evils, potential slips down the bioethical slope. But they’re either ineffectual or accommodating once an evil actually arrives. Tomorrow, they always say — tomorrow, we’ll draw the line. But tomorrow never comes.
- Douthat’s first link in the second paragraph that I excerpted above is by William Saletan of Slate. He noted that the article caused consternation among pro-choice writers. Here’s some of what he writes about Jezebel, which he describes as a “pro-choice website”:
Look up any abortion-related item in Jezebel, and you’ll see the developing human referred to as a fetus or pregnancy. But when the same entity appears in a non-abortion item, it gets an upgrade. A blood test could help “women who are concerned that they may be carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome.” A TV character wonders whether she’s “capable of carrying a child to term.” Nuclear radiation in Japan “may put unborn children at risk.” [Note: this reminds me of the time when I saw on John Kerry's 2004 campaign website claimed that the Bush administration's insufficient regulation of the emissions from coal plants put, as I believe the phrasing went, "pregnant workers" at risk. It was a different way of avoiding the obvious.]
This bifurcated mindset permeates pro-choice thinking. Embryos fertilized for procreation are embryos; embryos cloned for research are “activated eggs.” A fetus you want is a baby; a fetus you don’t want is a pregnancy. Under federal law, anyone who injures or kills a “child in utero” during a violent crime gets the same punishment as if he had injured or killed “the unborn child’s mother,” but no such penalty applies to “an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman … has been obtained.”
Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus. In the case of identical twins, even their genomes are indistinguishable. You can’t pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You’re killing the same creature to which you’re dedicating your life.