A mod­ern pro­posal

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION SUNDAY - kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

In his satir­i­cal so­lu­tion to Ire­land’s pro­lific poor, es­pe­cially among Catholics whose fish diet was thought to en­hance fer­til­ity, Jonathan Swift sug­gested a new menu item: Suc­cu­lent 1-year-olds for din­ner.

His es­say “A Mod­est Pro­posal for Pre­vent­ing the Chil­dren of Poor Peo­ple from Be­ing a Bur­then to Their Par­ents or Coun­try . . . ” was in­tended to shake up the English and re­mind them that the Ir­ish were, in fact, hu­man be­ings. This took quite a while to sink in.

“The archers are ready,” King Ed­ward I is told in “Brave­heart.”

“Not the archers,” the king replies. “Ar­rows cost money. Use up the Ir­ish. The dead cost noth­ing.”

Ob­vi­ously, the Ir­ish sur­vived to write news­pa­per col­umns. And civ­i­lized peo­ple don’t eat ba­bies — at least not roasted or steamed or as part of a ragout, as Swift sug­gested. But there are other ways to make use of the un­born, as re­vealed in the re­cent un­der­cover video in which Planned Par­ent­hood’s se­nior di­rec­tor of med­i­cal ser­vices, Dr. Deb­o­rah Nu­ca­tola, ex­plains how abor­tions can be per­formed so that body parts re­main in­tact for med­i­cal re­search.

Nu­ca­tola thought she was talk­ing to two buy­ers from a hu­man bi­o­log­ics com­pany that would serve as mid­dle­men in procur­ing fe­tal or­gans for biotech com­pa­nies. But the two were ac­tu­ally ac­tors hired by the Irvine, Calif.-based Cen­ter for Med­i­cal Progress, re­ported to be an an­tiabor­tion group.

In the video, Nu­ca­tola is seen eat­ing a salad, sip­ping wine and talk­ing mat­ter-of-factly about the pro­ce­dures she uses. One gath­ers from her com­ments that she is a skilled abor­tion­ist.

To en­sure the vi­a­bil­ity of the cali­var­ium (in­com­plete skull), for in­stance, Nu­ca­tola prefers to move the fe­tus into a breech po­si­tion so that the head comes out last. Oth­er­wise, di­la­tion is usu­ally in­suf­fi­cient to avoid crush­ing the skull. She also avoids grasp­ing the torso where valu­able or­gans are lo­cated.

“I’m ba­si­cally go­ing to crush be­low, I’m go­ing to crush above, and I’m go­ing to see if I can get it all in­tact.”

Her com­ments were shock­ing enough, but they were mag­ni­fied by the banal­ity of the cir­cum­stances. A fe­tal liver here, a bite of Ro­maine there, a sip of wine. Nu­ca­tola’s strictly clin­i­cal view was that such valu­able live tis­sue (a.k.a. hearts and liv­ers) shouldn’t go to waste. By pro­vid­ing ter­mi­nated prod­ucts for re­search, she was fa­cil­i­tat­ing an “ex­tra bit of good.”

Ap­par­ently, this is also the view of women who sign the con­sent forms. At least do­nat­ing one’s is­sue to re­search is a way of cast­ing abor­tion in a some­what pos­i­tive light, sort of like do­nat­ing the or­gans of a de­ceased child. Ex­cept for all the ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences.

I’m not try­ing to make any­one feel bad, but I do aim to avoid eu­phemism for the sake of clar­ity. Ba­si­cally, the vol­ume of older fe­tuses at some of Planned Par­ent­hood’s lo­ca­tions is so great that they have a dis­posal prob­lem. What do you do with all these bod­ies?

En­vi­ron­men­tal laws pre­vent throw­ing fe­tuses in the trash, and even if they could, some garbage col­lec­tion com­pa­nies refuse to pick them up. The mid­dle­man who, through san­i­tized pack­ag­ing and clin­i­cal lan­guage, can clean up such a mess and, for a price, con­trib­ute to science is God-sent. Or is it from the other fel­low?

Some of the re­search us­ing these “prod­ucts of conception” is, iron­i­cally, for ail­ments com­mon to the el­derly — such as Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia. We seem to have traded “Soy­lent Green” wafers — food made from the re­mains of old folks forced into pre­ma­ture ter­mi­na­tion in the 1973 film — for ges­ta­tional or­gans. There is a cer­tain hideous sym­me­try to this dis­pen­sa­tion of hu­man prod­ucts — those too young or too old to be use­ful ex­cept when un alive — but I’m not sure this is how the cy­cle of life was in­tended to un­fold.

Planned Par­ent­hood’s re­sponse to the video has fo­cused on clar­i­fy­ing that no parts are sold for profit. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s af­fil­i­ates only seek to re­coup the cost of do­ing busi­ness. Pres­i­dent Ce­cile Richards also has apol­o­gized for Nu­ca­tola’s tone. But let’s clar­ify fur­ther. Even­tu­ally, prof­its will be made — per­haps with med­i­ca­tions en­abled by re­search on a 24-week-old fe­tus’s brain stem. Just think: No un­wanted baby; no bur­den to so­ci­ety; plus treat­ment for some­one’s de­men­tia — a per­fect tri­fecta, made in hell.

And tone isn’t the is­sue. The is­sue is that we’re com­mod­i­fy­ing hu­man fe­tuses and har­vest­ing parts for dis­tri­bu­tion in the mar­ket­place, us­ing ra­tio­nal­iza­tions that can jus­tify any­thing.

The dead may cost noth­ing, but the liv­ers of ter­mi­nated fe­tuses are selling like hot­cakes.

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