|This is a excerpt from the book “On Asking God Why” by writer Elisabeth Elliot. It was published in 1989.
PERSON OR THING?
“Not long ago Time magazine reported another triumph of modern medical technology. An unborn child, found, by means of a process called amniocentesis, to suffer from Down’s syndrome, was aborted (terminated? quietly done away with? killed?). It was all very safe and scientific and sterile. Not only was there little danger to the mother, there was no harm to the other twin in the mother’s womb. The affected child (Is that an acceptable word? Should I say afflicted? unwanted? undesirable? useless? disposable?) was relieved of its life by being relieved of its lifeblood, which was slowly withdrawn through a long needle which pierced its beating heart. This was called a therapeutic abortion. The word therapeutic means serving to cure or heal. The strange part about this case was that nobody except the aborted child was ill. Who then was cured? Who was healed?
“Dr. Phillip Stubblefield, a gynecologist at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, argues that a fetus is only a baby if it can live outside the womb. If we can accept this assertion, may we also assume that a patient is not a person unless ‘it’ can survive without, for example, dialysis or a heart pump? Is a machine somehow more humanizing than a womb? Is it possible seriously to believe that successful detachment from the mother is what turns an otherwise disposable and expendable mass of tissue into what we may legitimately call a baby?…Why all the fuss? Suppose we apply some of the arguments used in favor of abortion to the treatment of the indigent, the friendless, the senile. If there is brain damage or deformity, the fetus (read also the senile or the crippled) may be terminated. If the fetus’s becoming a person, i.e., being born, would be a serious inconvenience to the mother, or to other members of the family, it may be terminated.
“A sixteen-year-old high school student who has no prospect for a stable home and whose pregnancy will end her chance for an education is counseled to abort her baby. How shall we counsel a fifty-eight-year-old divorced man about what to do with his invalid mother? Taking care of her might end his chances for a lot of things. If we refuse to allow medically “safe” abortions, we are told that we thereby encourage “back-alley butchery,” self-induced procedures of desperate women, even suicide. By the same token, if we outlaw sterile injections of, say, an overdose of morphine administered to an old man in a nursing home whose “quality of life” does not warrant continuation, do we thereby encourage less humane methods of getting people out of the way?…What do we do with the gift of life? Shall we acknowledge first of all its Creator, and recognize the sanctity of what is made in his image? Shall we hold it in reverence? If any human life, however frail, however incapable of retaliation, is entrusted to us shall we nourish and cherish it, or may we–by some enormously civilized and educated rationalization–convince ourselves either that it is not a person, or that, although it is a person, its life is not worth living, and that therefore what we do with it is a matter of individual choice?
“We are faced with only one question. Are we talking about an object, or might it by any stretch of the imagination be a person? If we cannot be sure of the answer, at least we may pick up a clue or two from the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own; before you were born I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ To God, at least, Jeremiah was already a person. For my part, I will try to regard whatever bears the marks of humanity as God’s property and not mine.”