The Breakfast Table

Ships Colliding in the Night

Dear Nick,

Aha, finally flushed you out. I was afraid we were going to be like ships passing in the night: I say Dr. Slepian, you say genetically altered tomatoes, never the two to meet. But alas, the issue of abortion seems to genetically alter you. The tone changes from rollicking to stratospherically distant, one might even say pompous. From what mighty mountain peak, for example, is it “not so very important” how the abortion debate is resolved in the U.S.? Hellooo, up there, but it’s awfully important to some of us of the pregnancy-prone gender.

Then suddenly you dash over to the Third World to take the anti-natalist side: They, the population-prone folks of China and India can’t have free choice, you say, they must abstain, contracept, or possibly even abort. But if our criteria are strictly ecological, then it is surely the births of tiny American consumers (of plastics, styrofoam, fossil fuels, etc.) which should be most vigorously discouraged.

You say we can have abortion only “as a threat”? A threat for what-failure to achieve 100% effective contraception with a menu of contraceptives none of which is wholly safe and 100% effective? Well, I suppose you can call it a “threat” if you like, but I’ll keep calling it a necessary option-and hardly a ghastly one to someone who is 7 weeks into morning sickness and already has a full complement of offspring to support (I speak here from direct experience.) Yes, it’s killing something-indeed, a potential human life. But here I must invoke a biological fact which I hope is not too gory for your breakfast table consumption: 60-80% of all potential persons in the form of fertilized eggs or zygotes fail to implant and are simply flushed out with the menstrual flow anyway, “killed” by our less-than-reliably-maternal mother, Nature. Which suggests to me that women ought to save their used sanitary products and send them to right-to-life headquarters, with a note saying, “Here’s little Melissa or Sean, please take care of them as best you can.”

But I have little hope of persuading you on this issue, which tends to reside at some brain level far below the centers of rational thought. So let me ask you, in all good faith and innocence, what you make of John Glenn’s forthcoming space flight. It’s being billed on the evening network news as great PR for the aged and further proof that aging is just another upturn in the thrilling life-long “growth process.” Yet the commercials which have come to dominate nightly news tell quite another story-one of incontinence, arthritis, denture odor and brittle, matchstick-thin, bones. As for the “scientific” rationale for this adventure: First they tell us they want to study the “aging process.” Then they tell us they already know that space travel mimics the aging process even in the young, causing their muscles to melt and their bones to erode. So why are we sending Glenn up-because he isn’t aging fast enough?

I have my dark suspicions, but would like to hear your theories first.