What Does "Pro-Life" Mean Anyway?

April 18, 2010

Over the past several decades, a great deal of political rhetoric has been focused on the often heated debate between those who identify themselves as “pro-life” versus those who embrace a “pro-choice” philosophy. But what does it really mean to be pro-life? Can one choose life in some circumstances but not others? Despite what many believe is a simple black-or-white, for-or-against issue, I for one struggle to decide which side I am on, or if I even need to choose a side.


As a nurse in the field of developmental disabilities, over the years I have cared for countless children and adults who were born “imperfect” by society’s standards. Until relatively recently, the typical advice for parents who produced a disabled child was to simply institutionalize the baby and “try again,” since the child was unlikely to survive longer than a few weeks or months anyway. Contrary to these dire predictions, however, many such children grew to adulthood despite their overwhelming physical and cognitive impairments.


I have often wondered, as a medical professional caring for these children, if perhaps we have done them a disservice by prolonging their lives. Particularly for those who are non-verbal, how can we know for sure that if given the choice, they would choose life for themselves? Or, if faced with the prospect of life in an institution, constantly undergoing painful medical procedures and hospitalizations designed simply to keep them alive, would they rather their parents had instead chosen abortion and thus spared them from a life filled with indignities? On the other hand, is it possible that these individuals are happy with their lives despite the hardships? Certainly many non-disabled people suffer serious, often prolonged, illnesses during their lifetime and still consider life well worth the trouble.


The answer, of course, is that nobody knows the answer, and this uncertainty is precisely why I find it impossible to take a firm position on either side of the abortion issue. However, if forced to make a choice, I would tend to opt for life in nearly all situations, and the reason is simple—nature has been in the business of selective abortion since the beginning of time, an advantage that trumps our meager experience as humans any day of the week. Children who are not meant to be born, won’t be—the naturally occurring process of miscarriage makes that decision for us.


If a child makes it into the world, then lacking any valid means to make a judgment call ourselves, I believe we must assume that he or she arrived here for a reason, even if our limited vision does not allow us to see it from where we currently sit.

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