No more words

24 07 2009

I think I shocked my bioethics students tonight: A number of them visibly started when I referred to the process of selective reduction as ‘killing’ fetuses.

No one said anything one way or the other, and the discussion (on multiple births) continued on its merry way.

Why would I do that, talk about killing, I mean? There’s a perfectly fine term for the procedure whereby the number of fetuses in a woman’s uterus is reduced to a more manageable (for her, and for the remaining fetuses) number, so no need to bring up the distasteful associations of ‘killing.’

Except, of course, that’s what happens during a selective reduction: After examination and evaluation of the fetuses, a needle is slid through the woman’s abdominal wall and into the heart of the fetus. A potassium chloride solution is then injected into its heart, and the fetus dies, after which it is reabsorbed into the surrounding tissue.

It is not, strictly speaking, an abortion, which involves the evacuation of the uterus.

And the situation is utterly unlike that of an abortion. When a woman gets an abortion, it’s because she does not want to be pregnant, does not want to be a mother. When a woman undergoes selective reduction, it is precisely because she wants to continue the pregnancy, because she wants to be a mother.

How awful, I said, to be in that situation: She has to kill her potential offspring in order to save her potential offspring.

I understand why people want to refer to this as selective reduction, especially those who perform and undergo the procedure. About the only thing worse than the situation itself is not having this as an option.

And the term itself is accurate enough: fetuses are selected and the number is reduced.

Still, I think it’s a form of moral cowardice for those of us who support the ability of women to decide on this option not to speak honestly about what’s involved, i.e., killing.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts on abortion the necessity of recognizing that abortion involves killing—not as a means of decrying the so-called tragedy of abortion—but as a recognition of the morality of the decision to abort, and, most importantly, of the moral capabilities of the woman who makes the decision.

We’re not a bunch of weak sisters who must be shielded from the consequences of our own actions. We may be sad or relieved or numb or any number of other emotions, and our feelings about it may change over time, but we can handle it. Really.

I’ve become even more adamant about avoiding euphemisms since Chelsea’s death. I killed my cat, I kept saying to myself, and told C. over beer and whiskey.

C., thankfully, did not correct me, but another friend admonished me when I told her I ‘mercy-killed’ Chelsea. Don’t say that, she said. You put her to sleep.

My friend was trying to be kind, but, no, I did not put her to sleep. I lay her on the table and put one hand on her chest and another on her ears and talked to her as the vet shaved her leg, soothed her as she cried a bit as he slid the needle in, felt one, maybe two breaths, then watched as her eyes dilated and she stilled.

I didn’t need the vet to tell me she was gone.

She wasn’t sleeping. No, Chelsea sleeping was curled up, tail nestled along her body or wrapped around her nose. Chelsea sleeping was her face tucked into her paws or her head twisted upside down, her body corkscrewed.

Chelsea sleeping was her soft purr into my ear as she propped herself on my shoulder or beside my pillow, her breath steady puffs in, out, in, out.

No, I know what I did to my beloved kitty, and it wasn’t putting her to sleep.