By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. This first ran in September, a follow up to other stories that commented on an incredible story that ran in the New York Times.
Some stories just “won’t go away,” and rightly so. The aftershocks of Ruth Padawer’s “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” [www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/magazine/the-two-minus-one-pregnancy.html?_r=2&ref=magazine] continues to be felt more than two months after her story first ran in the New York Times Magazine.
Why? Why would “selectively reducing” twins to “singletons” so upset even many harden pro-abortionists?
Is it that manner in which the child is killed—inserting a needle full of potassium chloride into the baby’s heart? Is that worse that dismembering her, piece by piece?
Is it the deliberateness? Typically the woman is carrying twins because of the use of powerful fertility drugs or IVF. The chances of multiple “successes” is pretty high. Maybe having attained the goal—a baby—eliminating one of the children turns “choice,” if not on its head, at least into a bizarrely inconsistent exercise.
Chuck Colson writes and broadcasts about Padawer’s story this week with this typical astuteness and insight (www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/17873 & www.colsoncenter.org/twominutewarning/entry/33/17858).
He begins by quoting an old friend of his and of National Right to Life—the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus—who once wrote, “[F]or the most part, bioethicists are in the business of issuing permission slips for whatever the technicians want to do.”
That observation is particularly pertinent to “selective reduction,” the history of which is the slippery slope on steroids. The practice goes back decades to when the use of fertility drugs and IVF produced many, many babies, not two. Patients and doctors persuaded themselves that it was safer for the mother and more likely to increase a live birth if “megapregnancies” were whittled down.
According to Padawer those were “medical decisions.” Killing a twin’s sibling is an “ethical dilemma”[!] And although “No agency tracks how many reductions occur in the United States,” she wrote, “those who offer the procedure report that demand for reduction to a singleton, while still fairly rare, is rising.”
From the beginning Mark Evans was key. Padawer tells us that “Early on Evans decided the industry needed guidelines, and in 1988, he and an ethicist with the National Institutes of Health issued them. One of their central tenets was that most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.”
But that dike could never hold, and Evans was again a key player in dismantling it. In 2004 “Evans publicly reversed his stance, announcing in a major obstetrics journal that he now endorsed twin reductions.” For Evans this was a function both of changing cultural mores and changing demographics (older women, single women, women having children with a second husband) and the conviction that having twins was sufficiently riskier than having a single baby.
Colson quotes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat who wrote after Padawer’s story ran, “From embryo experimentation to selective reduction to the eugenic uses of abortion, liberals always promise to draw lines and then never actually manage to draw them.”
Colson forcefully makes the case that if we abandon the view that all human life is sacred, there is no basis on which to draw a line. He concludes
“Bioethicists have already conceded that killing an unborn child for reasons that have nothing to do with saving the mother’s life or even her health is acceptable. They’ve given their sanction to medical procedures that make this procedure inevitable. Now they are haggling over details: how patients’ desires should be worded before they write the permission slip.”