On The Legality

There has been some renewed discussion across the blogosphere today about whether or not Dr. George Tiller’s murder should be used as a justification to renew defense of procedures like dilation & extraction.

I’m not going to get involved in a long and involved discussion of the legalities.  There are people much better suited and much more interested in making the relevant cases, and I encourage you to read up on them.

Instead, I have an entirely personal reason for my preference.

Being an Ashkenazi Jew, one of the most well-studied inbred groups known to mankind, I am subject to all manner of unusual genetic conditions, both positive and negative.  In my case, the most notable is that I am a carrier for Tay-Sachs disease, one of those lovely genetic inheritances of my background.  In my case, I was a 50-50 chance to be a carrier, because my father is as well.  My mother is not.

Tay-Sachs is a straight 2-allele recessive genetic condition right out of high school biology.  One genetic locus per chromosome, two possible alleles.  If you have no copies of the flawed gene, you’re fine.  If you have one copy of the flawed gene, you’re fine, but you have a 50% chance of passing that copy on to any children.  If you have two copies…well, let’s head to Wikipedia:

Infantile TSD. Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first six months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with gangliosides, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Death usually occurs before the age of 4.

Pretty gruesome stuff.  Most commonly, in order to prevent the sort of short, nasty, misery-causing life that any child who has Tay-Sachs is guaranteed, if both parents are carriers of the disease, amniocentesis is performed as soon as it is safe, and any child who has two copies of the Tay-Sachs gene is aborted.

Imagine if I were to find out, seven months after a some illicit tryst, that evening had had further consequences than a headache and vague feeling of shame the next morning.  And imagine, further, that after finding out that I was the father, and knowing of my possible genetic inheritance, we decide to test for Tay-Sachs, and we discover, to our dismay, that the mother was also a carrier, and the fetus is doomed to a short, unhappy life such as the one discussed above.  

You are stuck between the rock of aborting a fetus that, if it were delivered today, would almost certainly be able to survive the birth process and begin its life, and the hard place of dooming that same child to the ‘relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities’ which will, without a doubt, end in a horrible death.  Isn’t that tragic decision difficult enough without some self-righteous Christian extremist shouting horrible things at me and the mother of my child while we try and seek consultation in our time of difficulty?

That reason alone is enough, to me, to justify keeping this procedure safe, legal, and without significant restrictions apart from those placed on the doctor and mother by themselves and their consciences.  I’m sure there are other, probably better reasons to be in support, but that’s enough for me.


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