Abortion as an Act of Mercy?
I’ve often spoken about the silent grief of miscarriages. I’ve spoken about how the mother, and father, will often bear the weight of the grief, when too few friends and family are willing to be sympathetic. Surely, the grief of miscarriages is a complicated grief process.
And yet, I’m not sure how it rivals the complicated grief that can result from an abortion.
While miscarriages can produce an intense sensation of guilt (after all, the very word seems to imply fault to the carrier of the child), I would speculate that the guilt doesn’t have the same potential as the guilt that can be produced by an abortion. And in all honesty — since we’ve never had a funeral service for an unnaturally aborted child — I simply have no basis to understand how both the grief and potential guilt is processed.
I can say, as one who has struggled for seven years to have a child, that it’s hard for me to understand how someone can abort something that I see as so precious. And, on the other hand — as one who also works with at-risk youth … youth who often find themselves pregnant in their early teens — it’s hard for me understand why so many evangelicals are so supportive of the idea of being pro-life and yet are totally unwilling to support the actions of being pro-life. If we acted pro-life, we may find that the abortion rates we so hate would begin to organically drop without any change of policy.
But no, Christians like to talk pro-life. We spout the rhetoric so that we can ignore the sacrifice that comes with both finding and supporting those who are unexpectedly expecting.
Is is possible that a person can be both pro-life and abort their child? Here’s a story from over at Slate.com:
This week my son turned blue, and for 30 terrifying seconds, stopped breathing. Called an “apnea seizure,” this is one stage in the progression of Tay-Sachs, the genetic disease Ronan was born with and will die of, but not before he suffers from these and other kinds of seizures and is finally plunged into a completely vegetative state. Nearly two years old, he is already blind, paralyzed, and increasingly nonresponsive. I expect his death to happen this year, and this week’s seizure only highlighted the fact that it could happen at any moment—while I’m at work, at the hair salon, at the grocery store. I love my son more than any person in the world and his life is of utmost value to me. I don’t regret a single minute of this parenting journey, even though I wake up every morning with my heart breaking, feeling the impending dread of his imminent death. This is one set of absolute truths.
Here’s another: If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs, I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.
More properly, I think what Emily is talking about is a type of euthanasia. Euthanasia simply means “the good death”, which often implies that death be induced unnaturally so as spare the terminally dying from that pain that is sure to come with natural death. This would have been a euthanization while in the womb.
Emily wasn’t aborting Ronan because she didn’t have the ability to raise him, nor was she aborting him because he was the result of an ill advised but consensual night with a nearly unknown man. She would have aborted Ronan for Ronan’s own good.
So — at least in my mind — although this would have been an abortion, it falls more in line with the mercy death of euthanasia.
Euthanasia makes sense from the standpoint of a culture of independence and isolation; a culture where a lack of individual pain and individual suffering define the good death. On the other hand, in more communitarian societies, dying well is dying with your family and friends surrounding you in their love. In the West, dying well is dying on your own terms, as pain free as possible.
And I wonder if a communitarian society doesn’t have something to say to this situation.
When community is at the center of death, death becomes more than suffering. It can become a beautiful display of love … a time when the community shines forth its compassion, care and giving. I know this isn’t an either /or situation, as though Ronan’s dying is either individual or communal (it’s both), but when you have community and you’re caring for a the needs of Ronan, love is created.
Is is possible that Ronan has created more love in his short lifetime than I will with my 30+ years of health?
I’ve seen it and let me say that while death is always somehow painful, it’s not always ugly. There’s few things that move me more than seeing the loving care of a family who have utterly surrounded their loved one in both the dying and in the death.
If Emily had chosen the “good death” (abortion), would her community have had the ability to paint the picture of love and care? Would the “good death” have stifled artistry? Would her act of love for Ronan — while saving Ronan pain — have diminished love in community?
So here’s my main question: is the “good death” ultimately defined by one’s lack of pain, or by the community of love it creates?
Even though I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question, I do know that we’ll never know if we only talk pro-life.