“Wir wussten nicht!”
On April 26, 1981, Dr. Michael Harrison performed the world’s first fetal surgery at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. Dr. Harrison and his team inserted a catheter into a fetus to relieve a urinary tract blockage that was threatening to damage the baby’s kidneys. The procedure revolutionized the treatment of prenatal birth defects, and Dr. Harrison is regarded as the “Father of Fetal Surgery.”
Since that first pioneering procedure, the field of fetal surgery has continued to evolve. Today, there are over 20 hospitals across the country performing fetal surgery to repair heart and lung damage, remove life-threatening tumors, and give unborn babies a chance at a quality of life that was previously unimaginable. A University of Texas study evaluating the impact of fetal surgery to repair spinal bifida, a debilitating condition that causes permanent paralysis, concluded the surgery doubles the chances a child will one day be able to walk normally. And the future of fetal surgery holds even more promise. Scientists are currently researching in utero stem cell treatments and gene therapies that may eliminate diseases in unborn children before the debilitating symptoms even appear.
The genius of people like Dr. Harrison is amazing, and their commitment to the dignity of human life is inspiring. They are remarkable people that make us proud to live in a society that invests hundreds of millions of dollars to protect and improve the lives of its unborn children. Truly, we have created a culture that’s the envy of the civilized world. However, before we go patting ourselves on the back consider this; the hospital that performed the world’s first fetal surgery also performs abortions. In one operating room, you could have a team of surgeons working feverishly to patch a hole in the spine of an unborn baby, while across the hall; they remove and dispose of an unwanted fetus.
How do you reconcile this hypocrisy? What criteria is used to decide what child lives and what child dies? Is it as simple as one child is wanted and the other one isn’t? Is it because one mother sees some utility or value in the life of her unborn, while the other sees only a responsibility and burden? Does it really come down to the perceived value of a particular life? Is the mother the sole arbitrator of that value, or is there some fundamental value inherent in every human life? These are not rhetorical questions. They are the questions that absolutely define a culture.
Pro-choice advocates will argue that these questions don’t apply to the abortion debate because a fetus isn’t technically a human being, and because it isn’t human, it doesn’t possess any human rights. Furthermore, whatever rights a fetus does have, if any, they do not supersede a woman’s right to choose.
Does a fetus have rights, and if it does, what are they? Well, as a minimum, a fetus must have the right to life simply because it’s alive. It takes in nourishment, metabolizes energy and grows, and is therefore, a living organism. And all living organisms, at some fundamental level, have a right to life. But is a fetus a human life? It’s of human origin and contains human DNA, so yes, it is a human life. In fact, it is an unborn child. So, the dilemma is how to balance the right to life of an unborn child against that of a woman’s right to choose. However, in order to do that, someone must assign a value to the life of the unborn child, and this is what pro-choice advocates want. They want the right to assign a value to human life.
So, the question remains; is there a fundamental value inherent in every human life, or do human beings have the right to determine that value?
It’s a self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal. Meaning, there is no such thing as a natural aristocracy. No one has the right to assign a value to another human life. Our value as human beings is not dependent upon our parentage, ethnicity, race or any other factor. We possess an equally immeasurable and infinite value by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings. It is a universal truth that applies equally to everyone, everywhere, even to those in the womb.
There will always be people who will deny this truth, and insist that they have the prerogative to assign a value to someone else’s life. Mao, Starlin, Hitler, Tojo, and Pol Pot are a few of the twentieth-century despots who believed this, and murdered more than 150 million people. Of course, pro-choice advocates insist that abortion is different! Is it different because the Nazis used box cars and chlorine gas to dispose of their unwanted, while we use clinics and fetal forceps? Or is it because it was an official policy of the Nazi regime that justified the killing, while here it’s only a Supreme Court Decision?
In the spring of 1945, after six long years of war, the Allied Armies entered Germany and liberated the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau, unveiling the true evil of the Nazi regime. Outraged by the horrors they discovered, the Allies demanded an explanation from the German civilians living in these towns. The only answered they could muster was, “Wir wussten nicht!” (We didn’t know!) Infuriated by the façade of ignorance, military commanders paraded the civilians through the death camps, and forced them to bury the dead. General Eisenhower ordered film crews to document the atrocities “because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
Somewhere down the track of history the abortion debate will be decided, and it will be the truth and not opinion that will prevail. An unborn child is either a human being or it isn’t, and either all human life has value or it doesn’t. However, whenever that verdict is rendered, we won’t be able to claim, “Wir wussten nicht!”