Saturday, September 28, 2013

Life Report: Strawman Arguments Podcast Goes in a New Direction

I agree that we all tend to strawman. Listening and respect are a wonderful antidote. Listening and respect can, in fact, be life changing. The latest Life Report  podcast addresses the strawman argument, but not in the way you might expect. Among other things, it warns the listener that behind a strawman argument might lurk another matter that's well worth delving into:

When I was the Pro Life Guide at, a woman -- let's call her Sally -- come to the forum complaining that prolifers just wanted to make ailing babies suffer needlessly before dying wretched deaths in a NICU.I started with the standard prolife, "No, we're not into pushing futile care...." but Sally stood firm. She insisted that the federal "Baby Doe"  law mandated that any baby, regardless of how disabled or sick, must be provided with the utmost possible intervention if there is even the slightest chance that an intervention will provide even an additional day of life.

My normal impulse at this point would have been to set her straight and tell her a thing or two. But I guess the Holy Spirit was with me. Instead, I indicated that this was not my understanding and asked her where she had gotten her information.

This is where we got to the real heart of the matter: Sally's obstetrician had told her these things after her unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifada. Sally had been told that no matter how grave her son's condition, and regardless of her wishes, the baby would, by law, be subjected to the most aggressive treatments even if the doctors knew up front that this care would be painful and futile.

Sally had been told that the only way to protect her baby from essentially being tortured in a NICU would be to abort him. So she did. Whenever somebody spoke out against abortion -- especially abortion after prenatal diagnosis -- she felt very judged for "killing her baby" when the doctor had made it clear that the abortion was the only way to protect him from having needless agony inflicted on him after birth.

Here's where the fact that it was a forum helped. I told her that although this was not my understanding of the "Baby Doe" law, I'd research it. I did so and found that my memory was indeed correct. The "Baby Doe" law merely prohibited discrimination based on disability. For example, if a baby had both a disability and a life-threatening condition, the baby would get the same care for the life-threatening condition that would be given to a baby without a disability.

I shared links on the "Baby Doe" law and asked people for information about how hospitals were interpreting the law. I knew that the hospital where my friend's children had been born did not interpret the "Baby Doe" law as a mandate to provide futile care, but that was only one hospital. What about others?

Nobody was able to provide information about a specific hospital that mandated aggressive, futile care for disabled newborns.

I shared links I'd found about prenatal diagnoses, including parents' stories about choosing whether to provide aggressive care, comfort care, or something in between for their babies. I finally googled "futile care" and found Preemies: Baby Doe law creates miracles -- at a cost, which misrepresents the "Baby Doe" law, then conflates it with improvements in survival rates of premature infants. I don't know if the dishonesty is deliberate or not, but it certainly conveys the impression that the maximum of aggressive care is mandated for all babies, causing needless suffering and disability.

The article was anecdotal evidence that the "Baby Doe" law could certainly be misinterpreted by a hospital, or that hospitals might choose to use more aggressive treatment than they otherwise would due to fears that they'd be accused of breaking the "Baby Doe" law. But it wasn't exactly a smoking gun.

Over many months of seeking out information -- both by searching myself and by putting out calls to everybody I could think of -- I found zip, zilch, nada. I never was provided with any actual evidence that there were hospitals systematically inflicting intrusive and futile care -- or even aggressive care -- due to the "Baby Doe" law. I kept the forum members posted on my progress, or rather the lack thereof. Sally asked not to be given specific updates because it brought up memories that were simply too painful. Eventually she dropped out of the forum, and life went on.

Later, Sally reemerged -- quietly and unobtrusively -- as a pro-life post-abortive woman.

I respected her wish to remain quiet and unobtrusive. I hope she is thriving now. I hope that the people who participated in pushing her into an abortion have come to their senses and repented.

And I always strive to remember that everybody I encounter had a story. I'm not necessarily consistent or very good at it, but I try. Everybody is potentially a Sally.