AN UNLIKELY event in any book publishing season would be the appearance of a volume for general readers entitled Tonsillectomies and Adenoidectomies. Who would read it? Why would anyone publish it?
Yet, in the past three years, ten books on abortion have appeared on the American market.
Abortion, usually, is a simple, surgical procedure almost as easy to perform as a tonsillectomy. Nothing is removed- usually-except an amount of tissue half the size of a teacup. And so it was not surprising to some that Glanville Williams, the well-known English criminologist, advocated that abortion should be treated just like a tonsillectomy-a minor operation to remove an unwanted or harmful "tissue growth."
Query? Why doesn't the world-why don't lawyers, doctors, social scientists, philosophers, then, react to abortions the way Glanville Williams recommends?
Is he a social scientist ahead of his time, or a throwback to a primitive past?
To doctors there is a considerable difference. To most of them abortion is more than just a minor surgical procedure. Hospitals have regulations that refer specifically to the performance of abortions; there is nothing in' regard to tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies. In most nations, laws do not exist for the regulation of tonsillectomies; yet all states and most nations have laws or statutes, liberal or conservative, concerning abortions. But why this difference in hospital regulations and national laws? Both tissues are alive; both are composed of material substances, chemical compounds, DNA and RNA molecules. Their physical structures may vary slightly, but basically they are both globs of matter composed of cells which, in turn, are composed of chemicals.
Modern thought appears to reveal only three ways in which fetal tissue and tonsillectomy tissue are different.
First, fetal tissue is unique. There never was nor ever will be another piece of tissue identical to it; whereas the tonsil tissue removed is closely related to all the other tissue in the same person's body. Second, fetal tissue is different from the parent organism. Every biologist can testify to this difference. Modern genetics has proven that the chromosome composition of fetal tissue, its genetic makeup, is fixed at conception and differs from that of the parents-from that of the mother as much as from that of the father. Your tonsils are yours and yours alone but a mother's fetal tissue is not hers. Which raises the interesting question: Whose is it?
One might argue that this differential between parent and offspring exists between parents and the embryos of all animals. And that is true. But society is not concerned in the same way with the use or sacrifice of animal embryos. Why again this special interest in fetal human tissue?
The third difference reveals the answer. It is the potential of the human fetal tissue' which concerns us. Unless molested, unless life-support is interfered with or withdrawn, human fetal tissue has the potential or capability--indeed the likelihood--of developing into an individual like ourselves, to be like us, to be in our image, to be human. It is the humanlike potential of the tissue involved that has moved society to set abortion apart from other surgical procedures.
Because of "respect for life"--in nonreligious, practical terms (since it is the only life we have or know of), or, because of reverence for or sanctity of life in religious terms-from earliest recorded history there has been no disagreement that human life itself is the problem involved in abortion. The disagreement, the differences of opinion concerning abortion emanate from the differing values which people place on human life in its various stages of development or fulfillment. To understand these differing values brings us to a consideration of life itself, of belief and disbelief, of faith, of deity, of humanity. These problems have concerned men of wisdom, the philosophers, for centuries. Recent scientific discoveries in biology and genetics have now given far greater power to men over life than ever before. With these greater powers the greater is our responsibility. How shall we use these new powers which science gives us? How shall we balance the claims of mother and child, of individuals and community, of the right to life and the equality of life? And among all the possibilities we have discovered and may yet discover, how shall we distinguish between good and evil?
How do we balance the rights of those with greater potential for maximum fulfillment of their humanity against those with less? Does greater potential mean that the one who possesses the greater potential deserves greater reverence or respect? Is "more like ourselves" the criterion for greater respect? Whiteness? Braininess? Athletic ability? Whose standards do we accept? With such questions it is not surprising, then, that the International Conference on Abortion, which this volume extracts in depth, concerned itself with ethical issues as well as medical facts, with definitions of reverence and sanctity as well as definitions of miscarriage or curettage, with implications for society as well as consequences for the mother.
This volume presents facts about the problem: statistics, inadequate as they are; laws as they exist, adequate or inadequate; beliefs as they have been crystallized in formal or informal terms by ethicists; issues and implications as determined by the practical needs of society.
Neither the Conference nor this volume could possibly settle the questions of abortion, since beliefs, opinions, biases, points of view on the value of life at varying stages are the basis of difference. "Gut reactions" are the basis for belief in some; in others, more formalized rationalization. In fact, the cultural heritage of each participant, of each reader to a large extent,
determines his beliefs. The purpose of this volume is to expose the origins of these varying heritages, and compare and weigh the basis of these beliefs; someday, hopefully, we can begin to reconcile the differences. In the process of dialogue, in the process of dissecting our position on the value of life, each participant, each reader, may move slightly toward the goal of each intelligent person to become an expert in humanity..
Chapter 2- Five Case Studies