Human Choices with Profound Implications–with a dash of politics   Leave a comment

Two disclaimers: I wrote over a thousand words and deleted almost half because it was too long, so perhaps I will have opportunities to address some of it via responses to your own posts. And I apologize for the wacky citations—this is the first and last time I will download a schoolbook to my Kindle.

The focus of this book is obviously intense but chapter nine, “An Error in Cell Division, or the Power of Positive Diagnosis” (loc 4582) was particularly profound. I was warned by my classmate via Facebook that chapter 9 would be emotionally difficult and he was correct. The use of narrative was particularly effective in chapter 9, though it was powerful throughout the text as a tool to propel (and sometimes challenge) her argument(s). The fact that this chapter deals with “positive diagnosis” is ironic since the positive diagnosis is about as negative an outcome as one can imagine, regardless of the “choice” involved to keep or abort. Rapp tactfully presents the most difficult moments of parents’ lives through her narratives, demonstrating how little choice is actually present when choosing to keep or abort a defective fetus.

The notion of seeing the fetus is an interesting development via technology, as it makes the baby “real” for parents, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the health of that fetus. Maintaining a distance from the fetus may be easier in a culture that medicalizes pregnancy and delivery to the extent of Western culture. However, sonogram technology at once medicalizes  and makes the baby “real,” using technology to make the biological fact more material and to allowing mothers—and fathers—to become more invested in the decision(s) they are forced to make.

Viewing the baby via sonogram—i.e. humanizing the fetus—is a preferred tactic among pro-lifers (current legislation pushes for women who seek abortions to be required to undergo—and pay for—sonograms before undergoing the procedure). I don’t wish to prompt an abortion debate but would like to point out the fact that in many cases, a mother’s life is also at stake (and not necessarily in a life-or-death sense), as the text addresses.  Mary Fruticci, who identified with the right-to-life movement before her abortion, is a useful example of the importance of maintaining “choice” as an option. When confronted with a Down’s syndrome fetus, she cites her own life as the life worth saving. “I share a lot of the feelings of the right-to-life movement. I’ve always been shocked by the number of abortion clinics, the number of abortions, in this city. But when it was my turn, I was grateful to find the right doctor. He helped me protect my own life, and that’s a life, too (loc 2928). While I am inclined to say, “how convenient,” the reality of her tragedy is a recognition of the complexity of pregnancy, something that cannot be easily or morally or practically legislated.

Many mothers featured in Rapp’s text cite the sonogram as a way to invest fathers in the pregnancy and potential child, an interesting use of technology to prompt human connection. Technology makes the biological or physiological palpable in such cases, leading to different possible outcomes (a lack of willingness to abort, an increased interest in the child, a more traumatic emotional response to abortion).  Rapp cites Louise Peoples, for whom seeing the sonogram prompted a more visceral response, “I was on this incredible high, like I saw the head and the little shoulders and then I came home and I suddenly crashed because I thought, there was this little person, I mean, it looked like a little person. And I was more upset than I’d even been because what would I do? You know, would I have an abortion? Because here I’ve seen it, and it looks like a little person” (loc 2731). Choosing to “keep” or abort a fetus one has seen can have much graver implications, as the mother confronts her future child before it is even an actual “child,” making her decision much more difficult, because aborting a “little person” is certainly a more difficult decision than aborting a “collection of cells that made a mistake” (loc 4585).

As for a discussion question, I am interested in the issue of selfishness versus selflessness, which is an issue Rapp spends some time on. I am not just thinking about the subjective, moral question of whether it is more selfless or selfish to abort/carry a “defective” fetus, but in the gendered nature of such a question, and the varied impact of such a consideration on mothers versus fathers. Is this sense of moral responsibility greater for the “carrier” of the fetus due to a physiological imperative or is it culturally constructed (or both)?

Posted September 28, 2010 by Lela in Uncategorized

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