"The Odds Against"
MOTHER: When I was a little girl I lived on a crowded street. There were crowded buildings, crowded people, crowded days. Even at night when the noise would die away, you were never far away from other people. Like I was never far away from Mrs. Haven.
1. What proof of defectiveness in the fetus will be required?
2. What will Society provide as a substitute for abortion?
3. Is Society willing to subsidize adequate care of the severely defective?
4. -Will abortion of the defective fetus lead to a total loss of reverence for life in our Society?
MR. LEONARD V. CARLIN /
She lived right across the airshaft from us and sometimes when my family was fighting and hers was arguing, you couldn't tell who was shouting at who.
But it was because of the night that I remember Mrs. Haven. Late at night . . . when I would hear her crying.
FATHER: What are we going to do, Ruth?
MOTHER: I was always asleep when she began. I would wake up to this strange whimpering sound . . . like someone was hurt. I used to think it was the loneliest sound in the whole world.
MOTHER: Each night, Mrs. Haven would cry. So many nights until one morning when my mother sent me into her room and I saw her new baby.
And I knew then, why she cried.
FATHER: Why don't you answer me?
MOTHER: Because I have no answer. Like Mrs. Haven had none for her child. Only I'm luckier. I know in advance what we're to be blessed with.
DOCTOR: You can't be sure.
FATHER: But you told us, Doctor. German measles in the fourth month. The odds ...
DOCTOR: Seventy percent will be born with minor defects... twenty percent with major. It's the best approximation we've been able to make.
FATHER: Infant roulette. I don't think I want to play.
DOCTOR: What does your wife say?
MOTHER: Poor Mrs. Haven. Poor unhappy woman.
FATHER: Ruth, we're running out of time. If we don't decide ..it'll be too late.
MOTHER: You mean ... kill the baby?
FATHER: It's not a baby.
MOTHER: Because you can't see it? Can't hold it?
I know it's wrong. But I don't think I can go through it. I can't bear the idea of a damaged child.
FATHER: But why should it be wrong? It's not your fault or mine. It's just something that didn't go right. There's no other way to think about it.
DOCTOR: If you want to apply for an abortion...
FATHER: Before we do... if we do ... we have to know a good deal more. I thought there was a new way of examining a fetus now. So, if you can predict ...
DOCTOR: It's not perfected yet . . . or even completely safe. And with rubella . . . it's of no use at all.
FATHER: But if doctors are working on it, what's the sense if it's not to stop a defective child from being born. Doctors can't turn their backs on that. You fellows have to decide who's to be born, then.
DOCTOR: No. It's up to the parent to decide how much defect he's willing to live with. And I don't think either of us has met the perfect man yet.
FATHER: Don't play games with me, Doctor. We say everyone has a right to be born. We're very democratic about it.
But once they are, the very ones we punish are the imperfect. We put a label on them-"different."
MINISTER: But it's your own judgment you must live with not that of others.
MOTHER: The price comes high. I know you speak for our church when you say we should have the baby. But I have questions. Many questions.
MINISTER: And I even more.
MOTHER: But you're supposed to have the answers. We're told to have our children but why is it the church agencies hardly ever sponsor a handicapped child for adoption? Doesn't that say-what you think of these children?
MINISTER: We should do more to encourage their adoption but people want a child who's whole. You can understand that now more than before.
MOTHER: But I remember a woman . . . her baby was retarded and they couldn't find a place for him. They almost went crazy trying to get the money for a private home. Who's going to help care for my baby?
If the laws says have him .. . people have to help. Or, why can't there be some kind of insurance. Something!
MINISTER: I can't help you. Forgive me.
All that I've learned . . . all that I believe in says have this child. It is a sanctified life. It must be accepted . . . it must be loved.
But that's such an easy answer. And if it is born "different" what do I tell you, then? For, despite the sympathy and the passing consolation of bystanders, you will be very much alone.
And I do not envy you your desolation.
Or the child's life.
Except that in all this, no one has spoken for him. We decide his future without knowing anything about him. And he can have a future, you know. A limited horizon, true, but the right to reach It.
We have to decide. Us.
MOTHER: I keep thinking . . . what if they take it . . . and nothing was wrong.
FATHER: I asked him. Could you wait . . . could you see at the last minute and then, if you were right . . . could you . . . could you do something to him? He said that would be infanticide.
And I answered . . . but if you kill what's inside her now what name do you have for that?
I thought about this baby, Ruth. He's almost alive to me.
MOTHER: What will it be for his sisters? What will it do to them?
FATHER: If they're the kind of kids we hope, they'll accept it.
MOTHER: But it will make them different, too. And what kind of life will it be for him?
FATHER: No, I'm no hero. Ruth. I wish we could bring it all back and there wasn't this baby but it's there. Doing away with it . . . says something bad. What good is someone who's handicapped?
MINISTER: But you are parents. You have a responsibility.
DOCTOR: Is there a difference between abortion and feticide?
MINISTER: The rights of the child must be respected.
DOCTOR: If we can kill the fetus . . . when do we begin to kill the imperfect people?
FATHER: I can't answer these questions. Don't ask them. I'm not going to carry the guilt of the world. All we bear is our own . . . if we are guilty. It's our child . . . and our decision.
MOTHER: I don't know. We can begin life . . . but can we end it? No matter the pain.
President, Catholic Lawyers Guild, Denver, Colorado /
"The issue here is whether abortion should be allowed when there is a chance the child will be born defective or retarded. If the fetus has a legal right to live, as some courts have held, then every fetus has this right, and the fact that this fetus may not be perfect does not change that right. The statistics show that when the mother has contracted a disease the chances are only that there may be a defective child, not that there will be.
"I do not believe we can legally allow an abortion on this basis of a defective child if we don't know if the child is going to be defective or not."
MR. ALBERT H. BLUMENTHAL /
Chairman, Committee of Health, State Assembly of New York/
"I think that the issue is not the supremacy or the inferiority between the life of the mother, the health of the mother and the potential or actual life of the fetus.
"I think it is that we as human beings have a right to protect ourselves and our families against harm.
"If we accept that principle as good law and good public policy, then I think we must accept the notion that when a pregnancy may cause substantial harm to the mother or to the family, they should have the same tight of self-defense that you and I have when somebody strikes us with a bottle and we strike back; or that a woman has when she attempts to defend herself against rape; or that a nation has when it attempts to defend itself against physical attack from another nation.
"I cannot tell this mother whether she should bear this child or not. That is something that she must determine after a physician has told her what the risks are. All I can say is that as a matter of public policy, the law ought to give her the option after she has had all of the necessary advice."
REVEREND ROBERT O. JOHANN, S.J. /
Associate Professor of Philosophy, College of Philosophy and Letters, Fordham University /
"It is not helpful for a professional philosopher or ethicist to come along with a simple determination that something is right or something is wrong with the idea that this is supposed to be the basis for public policy.
"The sort of play produced a moment ago in terms of the preceding case--and it can be applied here, if any can be applied--it is this idea of self-defense.
"I think if there is going to be some sort of case made for abortion here, say one can really rationally choose, it must be seen not as a principle justifying infanticide or euthanasia. The fetus is not a criminal.
"We don't use self-defense merely to rid ourselves of inconveniences. We do have a right to defend our right to self-determination. We do have a right to defend our health, but then the question is just what is involved in this defense."
REVEREND ARTHUR GIBSON /
St. Michael's College, Toronto, Canada /
In the old days, less than two centuries ago, the defective, the deformed were considered sacred. They were God's chosen people. I do not suggest for a moment that we practice a worship of defectiveness, or deviation from the norm, but I do say that ours is a cruel society-- competitive, tending to conformity, too unyielding and impatient to accept anything or anyone who cannot be a full-time productive adult.
"The minister in this vignette can do something, and so can this family, to make their whole society accept a new dimension in human values and human affairs, whereby the individual who is not capable of making a full contribution will still be valued for the contribution he can make."
DR. ROBERT E. COOKE /
Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University /
"To me, one of the issues involved here is not that abortion should necessarily be absolutely prohibited, but that we should try to make the alternative to abortion far more acceptable. This effort, I am sorry to say, has not had enough emphasis, from the churches or from the public in general.
"The legislators who stands up and says there can .be no abortion has got to put out some money for the care of the children if they are born. They are not doing that."
(PARTICIPANT has described abortion as just another surgical operation comparable to appendicitis, but, another scientist at this very conference has suggested that legalized abortion of the human embryo is so profound an insult to the reverence for life that its adoption would lead to future demands for the creation of a national institute of death-an institute where experts of no race, creed, or color would scientifically determine who has the right to life, where, and for how long.)