TIME MEASURED IN DECADES
If the fetus tested positive, the parents would then be given counseling. They would be informed of the difficulties that laid ahead for a CF baby and his family. And they would also be apprised of their options. A part of the thinking was that many of the parents would no doubt choose to abort the afflicted fetus; in other words, the whole initiative countenanced the notion that a life with Cystic Fibrosis wasn't worth living.
Lest you be too hard on the people who were behind this initiative, consider that they were a product of their times. This was well before much of the country had begun to grapple with the moral dimensions of abortion. This was prior to Bill Clinton offering his “safe, legal and RARE” formulation in which the “rare” at least signaled some awareness that there is something disturbing about abortion beyond the impregnated woman’s discomfort.
And lest you be too judgmental, please consider some of the other things the people behind this initiative were thinking. There were some parents in the CF community who had lost multiple children to the disease; to such individuals, the thought of bringing a similarly afflicted child into the world was simply unbearable. There were other compelling though less sympathetic arguments involved as well, such as the fact that some parents would be financially or emotionally ill-equipped to handle the burdens of raising a child with CF.
But even as a 13 year old with CF, I understood that this initiative was profoundly misguided. I realized that it suggested that my life wasn’t a valuable one. I didn’t know what “eugenics” was then, but this initiative came frighteningly close to endorsing a eugenicist’s world view. I also thought that the scarce financial resources then available to the CF community might be better spent treating those with the disease rather than “curing” the as yet unborn.
Here’s the irony: The authors of this initiative were almost uniformly the parents of living CF patients. These weren’t a bunch of miniature Mengeles. Far from it – I knew and still know several of them personally. These are great and wonderful people. They just didn’t see the disturbing aspects of what they were doing.
This is where I see the silver lining in Terri Schiavo’s death: Society is now grappling with similar issues in a serious and meaningful way. The fear regarding this entire episode is that it signifies that we’re on a slippery slope where life is constantly being devalued. But actually just the opposite is true. American society is coming back from a trough it fell into in the 1960’s and 1970’s regarding such matters. We are finally beginning to consciously decide that each life, regardless of the form it takes, is to be valued.
As evidence, consider the CF initiative of a generation ago. I consider it incredibly heartening that when prospective parents hear their child is to be born with CF, they almost never opt for an abortion. Americans have proved happily deficient in the eugenics game.
I have to admit, Terri Schiavo’s death hit me harder than I thought it was going to. It’s hard not to be angry at the actors in this drama that made her death a reality. But for those who feel as I do, we must recognize that invoking Auschwitz or making reckless comparisons to Hitler won’t be any more productive for us than they’ve been for unhinged members of the left the last few years.
It’s a tragedy that countless lives have been lost to date because society has yet to entirely come around regarding life’s intrinsic value. But such is the sweep of history. Generations of African Americans were enslaved, often by the greatest men of their eras like Washington and Jefferson, because the insight that slavery was wrong had not yet pervaded American society. Sadly, these things take time, time measured in decades not weeks.
So our fight continues. Terri Schiavo, rest in peace.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
James Frederick Dwight