January 05, 2011

A blurred line

My father was a sex ed teacher, which meant I had somewhat of a leg up, so to speak, when it came to my understanding of the birds and the bees.

For example, in fifth grade, when my father came to my class to give a one-day sex ed class, I wasn't entirely surprised when he drew a huge phallus on the chalkboard and announced to all in attendance "This. Is the Jolly Green Giant's penis." I'm sure it was one of those lines he used countless times with scores of fifth grade classes before and after mine, but it was probably one of the best ways to capture and hold the attention of thirty otherwise rowdy elementary school students.

Back on the home front, in my father's library, there were several volumes dedicated to the human reproductive system, and no one book consumed my curiosity quite like "A Child is Born." That book amazed me, and not just because it featured pictures of female nipples and a woman in stirrups pushing a human head out of, what I thought at the time was her butthole.

As I grew older I started to understand the images and gestation process much better, although I must admit I was slightly disappointed to learn babies don't get pushed out of buttholes. Growing up is chock full of disappointments like that, I suppose.

Flash forward to college, where I took a handful of entirely useless philosophy classes, but which nevertheless introduced me to the philosophical concept of the "slippery slope," as opposed to those "sticky slopes" I suppose. The slippery slope was particularly applied to the concept of human fertilization and reproduction, and in particular at what point a human becomes a human. The slippery slope was always factored in to keep the philosophical argument going further and further.

In other words, if fertilization was decreed to be "when the egg and the sperm" meet, the slippery slope argument would say "well, what about half a second before that? And, if half a second before that applies, why not a half second before that?" And so on and so on until you found yourself basically arguing masturbating into a sock could theoretically be considered fertilization, philosophically speaking.

In retrospect, I wasted a lot of time and money in those philosophy classes.

Anyway, as bad as those philosophy classes were, they did engender within me a certain crude moral framework when it came to my concept of human fertilization and abortion. I mostly considered abortion to be an acceptable option provided it occurred within the first trimester, and that rough idea held fairly firm for over a decade.

Flash forward to Thursday last week, when my wife went into premature labor at only 23 weeks into gestation. A doctor informed us, medically speaking, 23 weeks is considered sort of a gray area when it comes to the concept of fetus "viability."

If, for example, my wife had been 1,000 miles away from any medical facility and had given birth in the desert, with no hope of medical care, it would have been considered a miscarriage. If, on the other hand, the babies had undergone a C-section but neonatal intensive care hadn't been available, it could have been considered an abortion. However, because neonatal intensive medical care was available, the babies were considered "viable."

I'm not sure, philosophically, what all this potentially meant, but I've been thinking about it off and on over the past week, and I can't honestly say I know what to make of it all.

Certainly, both my son and daughter had access to exactly the same neonatal intensive care, yet my son succumbed after two days while my daughter is still defying the odds. Was she somehow more viable, even though she was born three ounces lighter? What if all of this had happened one day sooner, or one day later? How would the viability have been affected then?

I can't say I know the answer to any of these questions, but it does call into question my somewhat arbitrary rule that abortion is acceptable during the first trimester, because it simply begs for a more thorough explanation and, given the events of a week ago, I honestly don't think I could adequately supply one.

Posted by Ryan at January 5, 2011 09:39 PM | TrackBack

In this particular instance, I distinguish between how I make my own choices, and what I'm willing to require of other people. I've been sexually active since I was 15, but at the age of 19 after a lot of serious thinking about STDs and my personal feelings about abortion, I made a decision to be totally celibate for more than four years, until I could be more responsible. I think abortion is homicide. I've never heard an argument for why a fetus is or isn't human that doesn't strike me as patently solipsistic. So I've made significant efforts to avoid even a small chance of being the cause of an abortion (though god knows I've done some stupid shit in my day too).

That said, I can imagine a number of situations where I would think another person was justified in getting an abortion. That's part one of my thinking. Part two is, I'm unwilling to let the government delve too deeply into why someone is getting an abortion -- I don't want state officials poking their noses into some teenage girl's sex life to determine if she was raped by her stepfather or if she made bad life choices or whatever.

I feel strongly that abortion is a horrible tragedy. But I don't think it would be right for me to force anyone else to make medical decisions according to my beliefs.

Posted by: Joshua at January 6, 2011 08:49 PM
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