Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Culture of Life (again)
Matt Yglesias has never been more right correct. Today he hits the mark pointing to the logical contradiction tugging at the mainstream right-to-life philosophy, "(t)he line that abortion is murder, but killing stem cells for research purposes is legitimate science..."

At its heart is a fundamentally misguided notion--held by mostly men and some women--of women and womanhood, one which both beatifies her and her reproductive power, and would also like to control and limit her--to keep her in that place of adored, revered, encasement.

Our fascination with the near-magical wonder of child-bearing impels us to womb-worship. Her ovaries work in time with the glorious ocean and the mysterious moon, while the male half of the equation--the rather inglorious by comparison ejaculation--can happen any old time and place, for our benefit and pleasure. And our culture generally doesn't begrudge us doing just that. Still, you get the sense that if we could, we would remove males from the process altogether. Our perfect woman, Mary, was allowed to do just that, or so the story goes.

And so the woman bears, too, the weight of responsibility in George Bush's culture of life (a culture whose roots stretch back more than 2000 years), responsibility to cultivate not just a child, but our traditional awe at her beautiful (unseen) gift/power (perhaps beautiful *because* unseen? the male gift, out in the open, offers so little mystery as to be banal.). And so, a fertilized egg inside her comes wrapped with promises, threats, and the duty of protecting innocence and the soul itself. But, a fertilized egg outside her? As Matthew quotes John Danforth rightly pointing out, most of us, including conservatives, can clearly see the difference between "cells in a petri dish" and human life.

So, why the criminalizing distinction? Isn't this just another way for men to try and control women for the furtherance of their own deeply-ingrained mythologies? This contradiction--which would grant humanity to embryonic cells inside a woman, but deny it outside--would see the womb as the temple in which God Himself reaches out to touch mankind; the place where the soul itself is born. Males--at our best--can only manage that event in art, on chapel ceilings and the like. And so conservatives feel empowered to deny women the right to decide what they may and may not cultivate in their own bodies, primarily because they want to believe something magical happens in the womb and nowhere else.

Well, it is wondrous. But it is not magic. And that reverential mythology is not a justifiable burden to place on women, even as we adore and are awed by all of nature's biology. As Matthew says "you sort of have to be a man" to hold such requirements and beliefs, that would gladly suffer the destruction of embryos for research and for fertility clinics (for which hundreds of thousands of embryos are destroyed) and call it science, but would criminalize a woman for doing it, and call it murder.

If the Schiavo case has done nothing else, it has brought into full light the question of human life. I have been shocked, though I suppose I shouldn't be, to hear conservative TV pundits aghast at the reality--known to all the rest of us--that feeding tubes are in fact routinely removed; ventilators are turned off; determinations are made that there is no recognizable human life there. What gives a life its humanity? its capacity to commune with others? its memory? consciousness of its own existence? Is a faint heartbeat all that constitutes a human life? Does it require a womb? must it feel pain? joy? anticipation? Must it merely be an organism with the potential for such?

Will we let all cells that meet the minimum imaginable requirements hold the same place in our laws, and our religion, and our hearts, that a baby does, or a sibling, or a parent? I would suggest that, as argued in Matt's piece, we already do not, and we should not. And so long as we don't, we must not demand it of women just to further our own cultural-religious mythologies of the womb.

Let's be about the business of valuing, and honoring, human life with all of the dignity it deserves and desires. Human. Life. It is, today, struggling with decisions, disease, hunger, pain, poverty, war and hatred, sacrifice, cruelty, disaster and disability; and it dreams and plans--when it still has the will--for opportunity, freedom, justice, friendship, peace, community, love, family and beauty. It is in the pursuit of those things--both the great and the small, the joyful and the harrowing--that the fingertips of God touch us all. And the enactment of those things, not the reproductive chemistry of cellular biology, is the temple in which the soul is born. Care toward a dignified--even when difficult--human life is the duty of us all, not just the females among us. There is much to be done on that front.

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