Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 11, 2009


From time to time I come across something that clarifies my thinking about what are called issues, those bits and pieces of life that present us with problems, stirrings of conscience and feelings we can’t quite identify, or perhaps would rather not have to identify.  Yet we know that they are there and they tell us something is queer, not quite right about what everyone else says is a good thing.  Or, if not everyone else, then a sufficiently loud number of “competent authorities” and “interested parties”.  I suppose when the first Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal hunting chief came up with the idea that stampeding herds of bison or mammoth over cliffs would provide the tribe with huge supplies of meat there were some guys who said, “Yeah, but…” whose voices weren’t listened to.  Think of all those juicy haunches of mammoth, each of them enough to feed a family of four all winter long.  A little mammoth, a little moss, a warm fire.  Who needs more? What is the issue here, you wet blanket? They probably learned to keep quiet. Was this where “quiet desperation” got its start?

Aside from my misgivings about some things (that’s bad!  it’s sinful!) which I impute to my deeply ingrained counter-cultural Catholicism or vague references to one thing or another I’ve read years ago or recently, usually some fictional aside on the issue du jour, these hazy feelings of discomfort often only result in getting me in trouble with the folks who are all for stampeding mammoths into tons of fresh meat, or becoming the object of ridicule and accusations of intolerance from people whom, I judge, would rather do something, anything, than think and draw conclusions; which is, to be quite honest, most of us, most of the time. I call that frame of mind a form of “Scarlettism”.  Back then I might have said, when all of the rest of the tribe were sharpening flint knives for carving “them” haunches…assuming we had a language to say things in, had graduated beyond grunting and pointing…”I see the advantages, but what about us ever running out of mammoths and bison?”  I can hear the answer, “Look around you, Peter.  How can we ever run out of mammoths?  Frank took a look and figured out that at the rate we drive them over the cliff yonder and eat them there’ll be three times as many to do that with every six years.  Stop your bloody grumbling and chip flint like the rest of us.”  And, so was culling invented.  You know what that’s like, now.

Somewhere along the way we stopped eating what we killed, wearing the hides and making hats and helmet ornaments out of the heads. After farming came along, hunting became a “sport”, and we started taking pictures of trophies, mounting dead parts on walls and making fireplace rugs out of stuff we would have eaten or worn years ago. Talk about culling, or “harvesting” now and you might get a rock through the window.  (Of course, should a coyote show up in the backyard, one is expected to call up the National Guard to remove it.)

Now, I’m not talking about harvesting/hunting, or clubbing baby seals or preserving the fast disappearing bird’s foot violet or anything like that here.  All of those things have quite enough folks whose minds are clear on the subject. With the clarity of the true believer they quite often make a mighty noise that any and all things are allowed and encouraged in support of their position, whatever it may be.  There are no “yeah, buts..” when it comes to hunting, clubbing baby seals and saving tiny roadside flowers.  Heck, tiny flowers and tiny fishes have been known to bring billion dollar highway projects and huge dams to a screeching halt…with the help of their friends in all places. On the other hand, my ancestors come from a country once filled with forests which disappeared into ship hulls and masts. Took a couple of centuries to get that way, but folks were pretty determined. We can do a lot when we set our mind to it.

Many times I can see both sides of the argument, and, unless I had read about the now gone forests would never have missed them for the rugged beauty of bare hills and the sweet loveliness of the green fields. You see what I mean? Now, knowing what I know, I find myself pressured one way or another, sometimes both ways at the same time.

But, something caught my eye a couple of hours ago that was, how shall I put it, on the other side of the street; caught my eye, clarified the issue and ended it for me.  This thing had to do with issues of life, innovation and technology; as in the creation of the former by the use of the latter.  I used to be fascinated by things scientific as a youngster.  Everything scientific was good, and not-scientific stuff was, well, not worth considering.  I was a fan.  Superman, Captain America, Plastic Man, Flash Gordon; these guys were all good for us, and the things they stood for were all good for us.  Even their enemies, individual “evil geniuses”, or Nazis and Japs (I’m old enough to remember “Japs”), were merely using good stuff for bad reasons, and they got what was coming to them.  Often, in the stories I read, bad guys were making monsters using science and the good guys, using science too, would go out and defeat them.  It was the way it was supposed to be.  But, I make bold to repeat, I grew up.  And some things began to give me chills I couldn’t quite figure out.

One of them was when I read, about thirty years ago, how some good scientists figured out a way to grow babies for couples where the lady couldn’t grow her own for one reason or another, and where the guy didn’t have enough of his own “tadpoles” to do the job, either.  So was born IVF, and test tube babies.  The first one of those is a nice lady named Louise Brown, now a mother herself, I think.  At the time it happened her birth was hailed by one and all.  But, I couldn’t get rid of the chalk on the blackboard feeling the whole thing gave me, even though her mother and father were, in fact, her parents, and all the doctors did was, sort of, help.  I wondered about the second shoe dropping.

Turns out a whole closet full of shoes has dropped.  Louise was the first of hundreds of thousands, we know.  Soon after she came along a new industry was born, and with it a dictionary of new terms, anonymous donor, then surrogate mother, then selective , umm de-selection. That’s where the parents to be choose who they don’t want to be parents of; kids who the doctors say will have two thumbs on one hand and none on the other. That kind of stuff.  In all of this I wondered how the kids themselves felt (including the ones who will never get to answer that question).  This morning I read a fascinating story about a young lady who, like Louise, was born via IVF.  And after reading the story I discovered what my misgivings were all about. You can find the story at Mercator Net on the web ( http://www.mercator ). The story’s title is “A Creation Myth for the 21st Century”. You can, and maybe you should, read for yourself about Olivia Pratten, and why she’s in the news.  I followed one of the links I found in the story and learned that she isn’t at all alone in thinking about this “whole new world” in the way she’s thinking about it.  The kids are talking, now.  Be careful, though, because some of what they talk about doesn’t make a lot of folks look nice.

Here’s a quote from one of those places the story sent me:
“Yet if we are to peel back all the warm fuzzy connotations in regard to sperm donation we are able to see it for what it actually is. It is a transaction whereby sperm is procured from a man and money is exchanged. It makes no difference if this renumeration is for time or expenses occured in providing their sperm. Money has changed hands making it a financial transaction, thus making the biological father a sperm vendor….No matter how pretty we dress up the facade, donor conceived children were sold.”

I spent a short time reading that and similar things written by people who had been, as they say, bought in the same kind of way we buy a car, and customize it during a sitdown with the salesman, over a coffee, while looking through the shiny catalog. The creepy “issues” feeling came back to me and I suddenly realized that this whole thing isn’t about love, or new life, or giving a baby the gift of it at all. It’s about selfishness and self gratification; life-style instead of life. I thought of Eve’s temptation in the Garden and what that produced; death instead of life.

Out of curiosity I went searching for Olivia, herself, on the net.  She’s not hard to find.  I recommend, if you do, that you go to the link which directs you to something about On The Waterfront.  Her picture is there.  I’m Olivia’s father and I would be very happy to have such a pretty young woman, and a smart one, call herself my daughter.  What’s not to like I think to myself.  Then I wonder how much the guy got to be a salmon. Come to think of it a salmon probably has more feeling about what it’s doing than the “donor”.

There you go with the fish thing. Fish, pure water, all that stuff. Issues.  The feeling doesn’t go away.


  1. Now isn’t that timely…was just discussing the famous Baby M case last night. Of all the smart people there in the class only one thought the principle that every child deserves to be born to a mother and father that are married was worthy of mention….suffice to say he did not get the last word…after all, a contract is a contract, even to make a baby…what’s a baby anyway but a pound of flesh, lovable to be sure but who’s to say it can’t be purchased….It occurred to me this morning that the Southerners that believed that the Civil War was a punishment from the Lord for their practice of breaking up the families of slaves had more conscience than we do…isn’t the bottom line that every child has the right to be created in an act of love, and received as a gift from God, not pursued as a pound of flesh?

  2. Baby M. How well I remember. Wikipedia refers to the woman who gave birth to her as the “surrogate’, tho’ that wasn’t the case. She was, in fact, her birth mother. Her father was, to use the crude term, a turkey baster, tho’ the guy who paid for Mom’s to carry the kid and get paid for doing is. bad news all around.

    Thinking about Salmon, now, they look pretty good as parents, compared to some of this, what, absurd sordity? At least they give everything they have, including life, so the kids will live.

  3. The idea of designer babies is so crude, and cliche, I didn’t think it true to life…but that future is already arrived.

    Now that we are able to patent portions of DNA, isn’t it only a matter of time until the constitutional right to be strong, intelligent and beautiful is cited as the rationale by which we are entitled to destroy any life which doesn’t measure up to that standard?

    We all want to be strong, intelligent and beautiful of course…this calls to mind the phrase attributed to blessed Andre–“I am ignorant. If there were anyone more ignorant, the good God would choose him in my place.”

    It’s probably a done deal at this point, and only a matter of time before God finds some people more ignorant than we are to choose in our place.

    What a waste.

    And yet…Verbum autem Domini manet in aeternum…amen.


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