Harvest field.

20130315-000628.jpgI am working on a project involving a prohibition on issuing patents on human organisms. The idea that one human being could possibly lay a claim to the unique invention of another human being is absurd. It doesn’t pass even the most basic level of legal scrutiny, otherwise known as the “ha ha test”. But because we will vigorously defend our right to embrace absurdity if it is profitable enough, we have to enact a law telling people not to do something they actually cannot do in the first place.

As it is, researchers may “create” human beings and are free to exploit them with impunity. And they do. For the sake of the greater good, human organisms are infused with diseases, disassembled for research and even bred with animals. Once they have served their utilitarian function, they are summarily discarded as human waste. Researchers may not be able to secure a patent on their tiny “inventions”, but for all intents and purposes they own their human subjects and treat them accordingly.

Of course this all takes place in sterile facilities under the supervision of people in white coats with lots of letters after their names so it must be okay, right?

What goes through scientists’ minds when they watch human life appear before their eyes? Does it ever become mundane? Do they feel any sadness when they toss the remains of their tiny creations in the biomedical trash heap?

Do they ever think, even if just for a second, that they might meet their experiments in heaven one day?

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Eggsploitation.

Help Wanted: “My husband and I are looking for a young woman for egg donation…someone who is about my look and build…caucasian, fair skinned, slender with long legs…blonde/light brown hair.  You must be between the ages of 20 and 32; caucasian; of German, English, Eastern Europeon descent; be college-educated or attending college; healthy…no tattoos…You must also be willing to travel…”   (Ad posted under “jobs” on Craigslist NYC)

This afternoon I attended a local screening of Jennifer Lahl’s award-winning film Eggsploitation, which tells the story of three young women – all graduate students – who decided to sell their eggs in response to online ads promising big bucks and little pain.  In each case, the young woman received much more than she bargained for in the form of life-threatening complications and lifelong health concerns, including her own infertility.

The film raises so many disturbing issues, it’s difficult to know where to start.  The most obvious is the money involved.  We don’t allow payment for organs in this country because we have had our experience with the commodification of human beings and it didn’t go well.  I know that those with Libertarian tendencies shudder at the thought that the free market cannot remedy all problems, but in this case the market has created a demand for a “product” that should never have been for sale.  And for far too long the “invisible hand” of our laissez faire policy has allowed the development of a $6.5 billion industry to proceed unnoticed – and unregulated.

By unregulated I mean giving young women a drug that is approved by the FDA for end-stage prostate cancer without gathering one shred of data on the possible side effects of injecting it into healthy young women.  I also mean telling women there are “no known” complications from the drug when the better answer is that we know that there have been complications, but no one has bothered to do a thorough study on their prevalence.  And by unregulated I mean encouraging women to complete the “treatment” even after they complained of severe pain and other bad reactions to the drugs.

I don’t know what passes for informed consent these days, but the women depicted in the film – and many others like them – had no idea what they were getting into.  When they tried to research the potential dangers of the procedure, no such research was available.   So they relied on the assurance of egg brokers, who promised them the opportunity to “make someone’s dream come true” and a nice chunk of change besides.  Your classic win-win.

Aside from the lack of meaningful consent if not outright misrepresentation, I find it particularly troubling that the infertility industry has nonchalantly reinstituted what basically amounts to a form of chattell slavery.  Older couples with means are offering tens of thousands of dollars to young women who are cash-strapped and often mired in student loan debt in exchange for their eggs.

Of course the eggs are not “sold.”  That would be crass.  Instead there is a negotiated fee that accompanies the transaction once the “donation” is successful.

There is a legal presumption that such arrangements are inherently coercive.  It is, in fact, the same argument used to keep credit card issuers from advertising on college campuses.  How can we get so worked up about young people jeopardizing their credit scores yet not have a single regulation in place to protect young women who are jeopardizing their lives?

After the screening, someone asked why the National Organization for Women and other feminist groups aren’t in an uproar about the egg “donation” industry.  To their credit, many of them are.

The question I had is why is the prolife community largely silent on this issue?  In all of our enthusiasm to promote family building at all costs, why haven’t we stopped to consider the collateral damage?

Scoundrels under the dome.

20130315-010539.jpgIt doesn’t take a political wonk to know that not all members of Congress are persons of sterling character or stellar intellect. But as our Constitution would have it, Representatives must face the public at least once every other year and voters can always hope that an inadequate candidate will be replaced by someone more suitable for the job. Deep in the recesses of the U.S. Capitol, however, are 100 Representatives who voters have never cast a ballot for and who can remain at their posts indefinitely.

They are the men and women of bronze and stone who dwell under the Dome at the behest of their state legislatures. Since the mid-1800’s, states have been authorized to select two notable persons to reside in Statuary Hall – persons “illustrious for their historic renown” or “worthy of national commendation.”

So, who would some of these remarkable persons be?

Virginia selected George Washington, of course, and New Hampshire has Daniel Webster. Montana picked Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress (a Republican, in case you’re wondering). In 2009 Alabama ousted Jabez Curry to make room for Helen Keller. Not bad company, so far.

But not every state has its Washington. Apparently, some have had to scrape the bottom of the notoriety barrel to dredge up someone of suitable stature. Take South Carolina, for example. In 1929, the state decided that Wade Hampton was sufficiently notable to grace the halls of Congress. Hampton, who served as Governor and then U.S. Senator, was a Confederate war hero who just happened to be an outstanding fundraiser…for the KKK. He was an ardent supporter of “Lost Cause” ideology, which holds that the Civil War was a war of aggression by the North against states’ rights and the Southern way of life. Which sounds noble until one remembers that the only right consistently defended by the Southern states was the” right” to own and exploit other human beings. Oh yeah. That.

Speaking of lost causes, one of Mississippi’s choice representatives in Statuary Hall is Jefferson Davis, a man who declared in the Chamber of the U.S. Senate that slavery is “nothing but the form of civil government instituted for a class of people not fit to govern themselves…just that kind of control which is extended in every northern State over its convicts, its lunatics, its minors, its apprentices.” Really? Are you sure that’s the man you want to hold up as “worthy of national commendation?”

But Hampton and Davis are ancient history, so what’s the harm? After all, we’re talking about statues. Relics. Artifacts of bygone days.

I recently met a man who proudly referred to himself as an “unreconstructed Southerner.” Unapologetic. Unrepentant. Unsorry for believing that his Cause was right to sacrifice 600,000 men to perpetuate a way of life sustained off the bloodied backs of other men who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong skin.

And so Wade Hampton and Jeff Davis and others like them continue to live in the Capitol. Their Cause may be lost, but it is not dead. If only they were remnants of a distant era. If only their sole purpose under the Dome was to serve as a reminder of man’s capacity for unspeakable brutality to other men.

If only bad ideas had term limits.

March for life.

I was able to get outside for a few minutes to grab lunch and head down to the Mall to watch the March. It looked like there were more walkers and fewer protesters than in previous years. At the same time, new data shows there are more abortions and fewer live births than in previous years. I guess there’s no need to protest when you’re strategy is working.

*****

One very pregnant woman carried this sign. For those who don’t remember, Article 1, Section 2 of our Constitution includes the “Three-Fifths Clause” under which black slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for purposes of apportioning representatives and taxes. Some argue that the Three-Fifths Clause was a necessary compromise. It also proved to be a convenient distraction from the larger question of personhood that has yet to be resolved. The Compromise was eventually amended by the blood of 600,000 Americans 14th Amendment, which itself was amended by the blood of 50 million Americans Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

Earlier this month I read that in New York City sixty percent {three-fifths} of all black babies were aborted in 2009 because the law does not consider them persons at all.

Maybe it’s time for a new strategy.

Things done in secret.

20130315-001620.jpgToday Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider, was indicted on eight counts of murder – a woman and seven babies who survived their abortions only to have their spinal cords severed. The Grand Jury report details the condition of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic – cold steel tables, filthy instruments, blood stains and jars filled with tiny body parts – basically, an exam room at Dachau.

The city’s mayor of public health was concerned that the abortion industry not get a bad rap for this “unusual provider,” sayingThe way we deal with abortion is in secret and for many, it’s perceived as shameful and I’m sure many of the women felt they didn’t have other options….The message I want to get out is that reproductive health services in the city are safe. I don’t want this to change women’s views of the services.”

The problem is that in the realm of abortion clinics there is nothing that unusual about Dr. Gosnell’s practices. Sure, some facilities do a better job of sanitizing, but dismembering babies is always messy business. The raid on Dr. Gosnell’s clinic simply shed light on what happens four thousand times a day in virtually every city in America, including yours.

Abortions are not done in secret because of some social stigma, but because no one wants to account for the millions of bloodied victims – large and small – left in their wake. No one wants to account for the fragments of humanity left behind when a society exercises its “right to choose.”

It is unfathomable – and unconscionable – that we will spend over $2 trillion on federal entitlements this year, yet we still convince women they have no other recourse but to give themselves and their children over to a Dr. Gosnell.

How do you account for that?

The real dirty secret is that not all human life is counted equal. We weigh babies and other undesirables in the balance – and some are found wanting. What else can explain why we tolerate unspeakable violations of law and conscience, especially in certain neighborhoods, just so long as they remain hidden? Dr. Gosnell had numerous complaints filed against him, yet his years of “service” to a low-income community shielded him from scrutiny. And there are countless others like him.

After the Holocaust, the U.S. Army required Germans to walk through concentration camps to see the residue of the horrors that had occurred in their neighborhoods, under their noses, in secret. They protested that they did not know, but the truth was they could not not have known. They just chose not to know and therefore they did not see.

For over half a century, Americans have thought themselves morally superior to those Germans. But Germany has since been forced to acknowledge its Holocaust.

When will we own up to ours?