culture of death

Even during an age in which acts of callous brutality have become common, the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell shocks.  It was Gosnell who ran the filthy abortion clinic in which live babies were murdered, women were subjected to “treatment” by unlicensed assistants (including massive and even deadly doses of drugs), and fetal remains were kept in jugs, jars and cat food containers.  His conduct still shocks any conscience left functioning in our culture of death.

Sadly, while certainly shocked, I cannot say that I was surprised by the Gosnell revelations in the sense of finding them unexpected.  Indeed, what is perhaps most disturbing in this horrifying series of events is the genuine mainstreaming of the attitude that produced them.  One could begin with the callous disregard shown by the mainstream media for the story itself.  Most media outlets sought to ignore or bury the story, with all its embarrassments for the abortion industry.  But even more disturbing is the increasing sense in which Dr. Gosnell’s practices are outside the mainstream of medical ethics, not on account of what he did, but rather on account of how bad he was at doing it.  I do not mean by this that all physicians believe in the value of infanticide.  And, indeed, there are many, many conscientious physicians who seek to protect life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death—what one would think would be the natural position for one who has chosen the healing arts as a vocation.  Moreover, the people of Pennsylvania at least have enough good sense to forbid abortions after the unborn child reaches 24 weeks, and few physicians in that state, apparently, are willing to abort children after 20 weeks.  But Gosnell generally is condemned in the press, not for performing late-term abortions, but rather for giving later term abortions “a bad name” by performing them in an unsafe, unprofessional manner.

The idea that abortion advocacy organizations want abortions to be safe, legal, and rare is, of course, farcical.  But the abortion industry does not like to see such massive evidence of the procedure being unsafe (to say no more).  Such evidence might hurt them in the policy debate.  Moreover, it adds to the low esteem in which abortionists tend to be held by their colleagues in the medical profession.  But the role of the abortionist is coming ever closer to the medical mainstream.  Pro-life doctors are an embattled group, facing “official” bodies representing the medical profession that for years have been taking on an attitude and a role that is truly frightening in its contempt for life.

Official organs of the medical profession have come to see pregnancy as a health problem to be prevented or terminated except under ideal circumstances.  And such a view infects that profession, and society at large, with an attitude that is, in the name of health, hostile to human dignity and life itself.  Recent headlines have mentioned the judge who ordered that the “Plan B” abortifacient or “morning after pill” must be made available without prescription to girls of any age.  This is too extreme (at the moment) even for the Obama Administration, which is suing to keep the age at which girls can obtain “Plan B” without prescription (or, obviously, parental involvement) at 15.  Most distressing is the relative “moderation” of this position—more moderate, for example, than the position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the medical profession’s “official” body in this area.  As one fawning CNN story put it, that body would like to see that girls and women are “able to buy [Plan B] birth control pills alongside ibuprofen and cough drops.”

Like most press reports, the CNN story equates Plan B with birth control, yet that drug only rarely prevents conception, instead inducing an abortion 75 to 89% of the time, according to the FDA’s own data.  So, the “moderate” position is to enable 15-year-old girls to induce abortions without parental or physician involvement, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wants girls of any age to induce abortions with as little “hassle” as getting rid of a headache.

Without an unexpected change in the current medical and cultural climate, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will get its way, while criticisms like this one will be dismissed as an attempt to harm young women’s health in the name of ideology.  The physicians’ groups justify their strident pro-abortifacient policies as a matter of “reproductive health.”  That is, the claim is that Plan B is necessary to prevent our “epidemic of unwanted pregnancies.”  And it is the view that a pregnancy that is unwanted is a health problem rather than a cultural problem that instills in medical professionals (and others) a powerful commitment to the culture of death.  Focusing on tragedies like rape and incest, and dismissing as either incurable or outside of medical concern the far more common and fundamental problem of sexual promiscuity, particularly among the young, such groups treat unborn children as dangerous invaders whose existence must be justified if it is to be allowed to continue.

A more welcoming and supportive culture (including much greater support for pregnant young women themselves, with their many physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual needs) is of utmost necessity where life issues are concerned.  Such a culture is not furthered by our hyper-sexualizing media, of course.  Nor is it helped by medical professionals who define their job as “treating” the rather natural results of sexual activity.

From assisting with life to guarding the gates to life; this has been the trajectory of medical officialdom.  It is not just physicians of course.  But this renders all the more troubling the medical professional ideology, which increasingly treats life itself, not as a right, but as a privilege.  Where unborn children are concerned, the ideology can be summed up in the phrase “better dead than imperfect.”  A useful example, here is provided by an article from the Wall Street Journal (the supposedly more sane of the dominant New York papers).  Titled “Tough Calls on Prenatal Tests” (April 4, 2013), this article tells of the rush to market various genetic “screens” for Down Syndrome and other “genetic abnormalities.”  The crucial comment, from my perspective:  medical specialists “worry that in the worst-case scenario, inaccurate test results could contribute to the abortion of healthy babies.”

Without any sign of hesitation or irony, the article’s author tells us that “medical specialists” recognize a bad outcome when they see it:  rejection of quality goods because they have mistakenly been presented as having defects.

Sadly, this grisly reasoning is borne out in practice.  The vast majority of unborn children with Down Syndrome whose mothers undergo prenatal testing are aborted.  Abortion figures, here, range as high as 90%.  Discomfort and even anger often are the responses to recitation of these facts.  The arguments are well-known.  Parents, it is said, should not be “forced” to care for a child with “genetic defects” and, what is more, should not “burden” society with children whose handicaps will make them life-long drains on the public.  That this is an argument that denies the worth and dignity of many, many vital, loving souls; it is worthy of eugenics advocates.

The implications of this attitude for the various “end of life” issues should be obvious.  How “valuable” are the elderly and terminally ill?  What will be the impact of hospital “death panels” be on our judgments concerning whose life is worth how much, particularly in its final days, weeks, and months (and years?).  Who among us has not been—and will not again be—weak enough to be considered a burden on others?  Once the value and joy of life is set in a scale, the ones operating the scale gain inhuman power, with all its corruptions, and we lose sight of our very humanity.

My point is a small one, in a world of very large and horrifying points:  to the extent that physicians and other medical professionals allow themselves to see their role as one of mere utilitarian instrumentality—as eliminating disease and other “abnormalities”—they become part of a highly dangerous culture in which each of us must prove our “normalcy” and even our value in order to receive treatment, survive, and be allowed to be born.  Abortion and, yes, contraception, is a key component of this culture because it treats life as something to be judged according to its conformity with “standards” of health and “normality” and even, of course, convenience.  We have all but buried our ability to sense the growth of this viewpoint where the beginnings of life are concerned, but the mode of thought involved increasingly pervades our thought—and the thought of those who may decide whether we live or die—in general.  As we enter a time of increasing scarcity with increasing power in the hands of government-guided “professionals” to ration medical care, this mode of thought will take more and more lives in an increasingly visible manner.  One only hopes more of us will awaken to see and oppose this trend before it is fully entrenched.  And it is the difficult duty of medical professionals who recognize their higher calling, of promoting well-being as an important element of being—of life—to reawaken in their colleagues, and the public, recognition of the crucial foundation of human dignity in acceptance of life, with all its burdens and imperfections.

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