Thursday, December 23, 2010
This story from Toronto’s National Post (here) reports a rise in the use of “selective reduction” in Canada.
“Selective reduction” (an Orwellian euphemism if ever there was one) is of course a procedure in which one or more of the unborn children gestating inside his or her mother’s womb is chosen for extermination. Potassium chloride is injected through a needle into the fetal heart of the child “selected” for “reduction,” causing the child’s death in utero.
The reason for the procedure may be that the child’s sex is not to the liking of his or her parents; or because the child has some congenital disorder; or it may be to avoid the normal risks (e.g. premature birth, lower birth weight) attendant to a multiple pregnancy. (For a longer article on “selective reduction” in the Washington Post from 2007 see here).
The article from the National Post says that the procedure has “become increasingly common in the past two decades amid a boom in the number of multiple pregnancies.” The story notes in passing that the rise in multiple pregnancies (a 40% increase in multiple births over the last 20 years) is due to the now common use of various assisted reproduction techniques including IVF.
Reflecting the seismic shift in ethical norms that has taken place with the legalization of abortion and the seemingly unquestioned acceptance of assisted reproduction the article notes that “[t]here seems to be little ethical debate around reduction for triplets or more.” What is new, according to the story, is “a growing demand for reducing twins to one, fuelled more by socio-economic imperatives than medical need [sic], and raising vexing new ethical questions.”
For example, the anonymous woman interviewed in the story who underwent the procedure said of herself and her husband: “We’re both career people. If we were going to have three children two years apart, someone else was going to be raising our kids. . . . All of a sudden our lives as we know them and as we like to lead them, are not going to happen.”
For this woman, then, parenthood doesn’t necessarily involve acts of self-sacrifice and abnegation made in love for the sake of one’s child – a defenseless human being wholly dependent upon the care of others. Rather, children are items to be fit into a life-plan – a plan that has certain features fixed in advance that children cannot be allowed to alter, even where their creation has been deliberately and painstakingly sought by techniques designed to achieve this very end. No matter. Where convenient they are made to fit in. Where not, they are discarded as so much refuse.
Although the article doesn’t say that the couple used some kind of assisted reproduction, it does say that “[b]oth parents were in their 40s – and their first son just over a year old” when the woman became pregnant for a second time. Thus, despite the woman’s claim that the news of her carrying twins “came as a complete shock” it seems fair to read this with some skepticism. To satisfy present needs, the rewriting of history often begins before the ink is dry.
There has been resistance in some Catholic circles to the use of the phrase “culture of death,” and not without reason. The fear is that invocation of the phrase by pro-lifers will not be helpful, that it will immediately cut off the opportunity for meaningful conversation with the proponents of abortion. While such prudence may be well-advised in attempting to engage in conversation with those on the other side of the life issues, the testimony of the woman interviewed in the article leaves no question as to whether the “culture of death” is an apt description of a certain mind-set that is now comfortably at home in the West:
“I’m absolutely sure I did the right thing,” she said. “I had read some online forums, people were speaking of grieving, feeling a sense of loss. I didn’t feel any of that. Not that I’m a cruel, bitter person . . . I just didn’t feel I would be able to care for (twins) in a way that I wanted to.”
The absence of any remorse, any sense of loss at the deliberate destruction of one’s own child is what is truly chilling.
Isn’t this the transformation of sin into virtue so that the person “can feel self-justified?” (Veritatis Splendor ¶104)
Doesn’t this reflect the loss of the “sense of sin” (Reconciliato et Paenitentia ¶18) brought about by “creating and consolidating actual ‘structures of sin’ which go against life”? (Evangelium Vitae ¶ 24)
Doesn’t this manifest a profound corruption of the human conscience?
And isn’t that the social malady that John Paul II so provocatively – and accurately – labeled the “culture of death”?
The comments by readers of the story expressing their disgust at the woman’s actions and attitude show that even where this malevolent culture has taken root, the seeds of a "culture of life" still persist. It is our task to nurture this good seed, to bring about its full flowering in thought, word and deed.