WickedEye's Quotient

6/12/2007 at 16:03

The Big "A"

The utter lack in this country of any kind of thoughtful, nuanced stance on abortion has always troubled me.

Many of the so-called "pro-lifers" with whom I've spoken (many of whom don't, apparently, care about the lives of people once they're born, given the majority of their numbers' stance on war and capital punishment) are utterly revolting. Their smug self-righteousness, their theocratic fervor as they dictate what should and should not happen to the lives and sanity of the people whose medical care and future lives they are trying to dictate, offends every instinct for empathy and autonomy that is in me.

By the same token, some of the pro-choicers offend me just as much. Many I've talked to demonstrate the same self-satisfied superiority, the same sense of arrogant self-righteousness that the "pro-lifers" do; though I agree with their assessments on personal medical autonomy and on the dangers of illegal abortions I hear almost no acknowledgement from them that science is fuzzy on when human life begins, that this issue revolves around questions of ethics that are complex and subtle and not amenable to the 10-second platitudes so beloved of the politically active.

So these are my choices: on one side a complete lack of any compassion for the patients involved, although claims of religious love and salvation are overwhelming; on the other a lack of consideration for deeper ethical questions. And on both sides, a complete dearth of emotional and intellectual honesty or consideration for scientific fact.

No thanks.

My position on abortion has always been closer to the pro-choice than "pro-life" position; but other than my staunch support for keeping abortion legal and available I refuse to side with either camp. I think that medical decisions are best left to the person whose body they affect, and as a future doctor and decent human being I have no desire to see women come into my office dying of sepsis or menthofuran poisoning, losing function and perhaps their lives because they tried to abort themselves with a coat hanger or pennyroyal.

A short side note on this- one of the most revolting things about the "pro-life" position is the way they scoff at this latter concern. I assure you that had any of them seen the figures on the number of women who display injuries consistent with this type of action, or helped a desperate 16-year-old girl from a conservative family get medical attention for "bleeding" that just wouldn't stop, their scorn and contempt for the well-being of people caught in terrible situations would show in an entirely different hue.

The other reason I fall more on the side of the "pro-choice" lobby is more particular to medical ethics, specifically: namely, the fact that an ob-gyn who is seeing a pregnant woman has an obligation to the woman- who is her patient- first; and only then to the baby. Lacking any kind of medical instruction or directive, when forced to choose between the life of a woman and her unborn baby, a physician will always choose the woman- she is her patient. I agree completely with this in principle and practice; there is no sense or ethical superiority in letting a breathing, self-conscious, functional and fully developed person die for the benefit of a life that is as yet none of those things.

At the same time, the proclamation by some pro-choicers that the fetus is only a mass of tissue, that this is not a morally problematic and very painful decision for the majority of the women who undergo it, is not only blind to the facts but demonstrates a lack of empathy and kindness, as well as of comprehension of fundamental ethical issues, that is staggering.

The fact is that, whether or not the scientific definition of life is clear, the majority of women who make the decision to have an abortion feel as though they are forced to the decision; are unhappy with all the choices they have; and find it to be a painful and devastating experience. The cavalier treatment of a decision so important to the people who make it, by those who claim to care deeply about the issue, negates any claim of integrity by those who exhibit such disdainful behavior.

In short, I fall in the pro-choice camp mostly by virtue of the profound respect I have for a person's right to choose the course of their own medical treatments and their own lives.

And I respect the difficulty of the decision for the women I know, and the others, who've made it- the devout Catholic schoolgirl sobbing through the entire procedure; the weary, worried mothers who cannot support any more children but love them deeply, all of them, and feel that they are losing one through Fate or a mistake; the desperate, nearly frenzied victims of rape and incest who keep their heads turned to the side, staring at the wall as they take the pain, refusing to acknowledge that this has anything to do with them, as this new violation becomes another choice which has been taken away.

What is wrong with us? Are we thinking about the people whose lives this affects- do we even look at the degree of human suffering involved in these decisions before offering smug, glib platitudes for one side or the other?

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