by Pearl S. Buck*
It is an encouraging sign of our times that various important subjects, hitherto taboo, can now be discussed and written about frankly. Among these none is more important than abortion, as a health measure or as a means of birth control, and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation now performs a real service to the public in bringing to our attention a compendium of opinions, medical, legal, and religious, on this subject within this well-documented volume-opinions all from persons whose professional experience is well established, The Terrible Choice: The Abortion Dilemma. With admirable detachment this volume offers enlightenment without declaring judgments. The reader is informed but not compelled to conclusions other than his own. The result is a readable, even an absorbing book-absorbing because of the immediacy of the subject. All sorts of people today need information about abortion upon which to base their own decisions. Legal men and religious men, social workers, doctors and teachers, parents and young people the range of interests and concerns is very wide, made necessarily so by the swiftly changing sex standards and behavior not only in the United States but also in the world.
I foresee for this book a very solid success because of the need for the varied information it contains, and I am happy so to predict.
With all this varied information, the choice for life or against life still remains with the woman, if laws permit. But laws, in a democracy at least, depend upon the force of public opinion. Public opinion may very likely, in these permissive days,
allow the final decision to rest with the individual woman. Even now her opinion is an important and perhaps decisive part of the whole. If enough women believe that abortion is a private matter, then laws will take that shape, finally. It is pertinent, therefore, as early as now, for women to face their own minds and hearts, and decide what they believe is right.
Far be it from me to weight the decision for or against abortion. I am only a woman among others. And yet as the mother of a child retarded from phenylketonuria, I can ask myself, at this reflective moment, if I had rather she had never been born. No, let me ask the question fully. Could it have been possible for me to have had foreknowledge of her thwarted life, would I have wanted abortion? Now, with full knowledge of anguish and despair, the answer is no, I would not. Even in full knowledge I would have chosen life, and this for two reasons: First, I fear the power of choice over life or death at human hands. I see no human being whom I could ever trust with such power-not myself, not any other. Human wisdom, human integrity are not great enough. Since the fetus is a creature already alive and in the process of development, to kill it is to choose death over life. At what point shall we allow this choice? For me the answer is-at no point, once life has begun. At no point, I repeat, either as life begins or as life ends, for we who are human beings cannot, for our own safety, be allowed to choose death, life being all we know. Beyond life lie only faith and surmise, but not knowledge. Where there is no knowledge except for life, decision for death is not safe for the human race.
The principle thus established, I go to my second reason for rejecting abortion, in my own case. My child's life has not been meaningless. She has indeed brought comfort and practical help to many people who are parents of retarded children or are themselves handicapped. True, she has done it through me, yet without her I would not have had the means of learning how to accept the inevitable sorrow, and how to make that acceptance useful to others. Would I be so heartless as to say that it has been worthwhile for my child to be born retarded? Certainly not, but I am saying that even though gravely retarded it has been worthwhile for her to have lived. It can be summed up, perhaps, by saying that in this world, where cruelty. prevails in so many aspects of our life, I would not add the weight of choice to kill rather than to let live. A retarded child, a handicapped person, brings its own gift to life, even to the life of normal human beings. That gift is comprehended in the lessons of patience, understanding, and mercy, lessons which we all need to receive and to practice with one another, whatever we are. For this gift bestowed upon me by a helpless child, I give my thanks.
*Nobel Prize-winner; author of two memorable books on children. The Child That Never Grew, 1950, John Day; and The Gifts They Bring, 1965, John Day.
Those who participated in this conference