September 12, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Respect life because every life is a gift from God

Cynthia DewesSandy Allen, the “world’s tallest woman,” died recently at age 53.

When her growth disorder became apparent at a young age, her single mom left her for her grandmother to raise. Eventually, she grew to be more than 7 feet tall, had trouble finding friends, and suffered much ridicule throughout her life.

Still, despite her deteriorating health and other problems, she devoted herself to teaching children and adults to be tolerant of those who are different from them. According to a friend, Sandy “always accepted her position in life as God put her here for some reason.”

Indeed. Respect for life includes respecting every life because every life comes from God. But since everyone that God creates is not as charming as Forrest Gump, this is not always easy. There are moral quagmires in respect for life.

Take, for example, the sign held by a pro-life supporter at an abortion clinic: “Abortion kills one, and handicaps one for life.”

This refers to the aborted child, and the mother emotionally damaged by procuring the abortion, but the damage may well extend to include the baby’s father and others. We don’t hear much about the wide circle of misery caused by the “pro-choice” of a single abortion, but it’s certainly there.

Another moral dilemma about the creation of life is described in Jodi Piccoult’s novel, My Sister’s Keeper. Here, the parents of Kate, who has a rare, fatal form of leukemia, purposely conceive their daughter, Anna, in order to keep their older child alive.

As middle-aged parents of a neatly planned family composed of a boy and a girl, they had never considered having another child. But now, they consult a geneticist to find the exact embryo which will carry genetic traits complementary to the sick girl. They implant the embryo in the mother’s womb with the father’s sperm. In the process, they destroy those embryos which are not “correct.”

Anna contributes blood, bone marrow and whatever else is needed to her older sister throughout the ensuing years. By the time she is 13, she and her older brother, along with the parents, lead lives which revolve around the ups and downs of Kate’s leukemia.

Eventually, Kate’s kidneys fail, and a donor is necessary. Their brother is not a match so a kidney donation by Anna is in the offing.

Here is where the moral complications begin, as if they weren’t bad enough before. Anna loves her sister, whom she considers her only friend, and loves her parents, even though they are admittedly focused on Kate and her needs. But she does not want to donate a kidney. It seems the final straw after years of enduring pain, worry and social deprivation because of the parents’ desire to keep Kate alive, and her own feelings of guilt if she doesn’t help.

Is the extension of one girl’s life a valid reason to purposely create another life and then use it in this way? Is it morally correct to produce a “perfect” sister by destroying the possible lives of other embryos? Should Anna donate whatever her sister needs? Should her parents ask her to? Should Kate be consulted about such donations? These are just a few of the moral dilemmas in the novel.

It seems to me that true respect for life means all of us should welcome any children who happen to come, and value them throughout their lives or ours as the treasured images of God that they are.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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