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George Orwell as an ally.

From the increasingly creepy frontiers of reproductive science came two distressing reports this summer at a Madrid confab of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. The first report concerned a group of Chicago scientists who proudly announced they have deliberately produced human embryos that are part male and part female. Supposedly these artificially assembled hermaphrodites in bud--who never will be allowed to complete their development--will assist scientisis in their understanding of embryonic development and provide information to help develop new therapies for congenital diseases.

Another report--even more disturbing, if that were possible--regarded researchers in the Netherlands and Israel who have removed immature ovaries from four-month-old foetuses which they hope to stimulate through further stages of growth in test tubes until they can extract fully mature eggs to use in the creation of new human life. Those four-month-old foetuses, of course, are what Catholics and pro-lifers would identify as "unborn babies". If these scientisis ever succeed in pushing this project along to its grisly fruition, those same foetuses will then have to be reclassified as "unborn mothers".

Many folks would describe such indifference toward what should be the inviolable dignity of human origins as "Orwellian". In what remains his most celebrated novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell (1903-50) described life in a dictatorial society where every human instinct of love or compassion was mercilessly suppressed and put down. But rather like Marshall McLuhan is commonly misperceived as celebrating a media-drenched culture which, in fact, he abhorred and warned us against, so Orwell is often regarded by those who haven't bothered reading him as a cross between Machiavelli and Stephen King; as some dour fantasist who took perverse delight in imagining the horrors of tyrannical states.

Not so. Nineteen Eighty Four was Orwell's last and least typical book, and should also be construed as a kind of warning. In the humorless extremista of the dystopia he depicted, it was unlike anything he'd written before. In this centennial of his birth, a flood of new books are appearing which celebrate the sturdy independence of thought, the unfailing common touch and the over-riding sense of decency which permeate all of Orwell's other books, as well as his essays and letters. Regarded as a marginal writer for nearly all of his career, today he stands as one of the untainted giants of 20th century letters; a kind of secular saint, whose moral imprimatur is continuously sought for the ideals put forth by advocates on all sides of important political and moral debates. If you can credibly claim that you've got the ghost of George Orwell in your comer, then the thinking goes, you must be advancing an honourable position.

Realizing how religious argument can grate on the ears of the unaffiliated, pro-lifers who wish to change hearts and minds must always be prepared to argue their case from a strictly civil perspective as well. May I suggest that George Orwell could prove a very persuasive ally in this regard?

Consider his 1936 novel, Keep The Aspidistra Flying, which was faithfully filmed in 1998 as A Merry War. The book's anti-hero, Gordon Comstock, is a failed poet with a rotten attitude toward bourgeois society, working as a clerk in a mouldy used bookshop and cranking out essays of socialist criticism for a Marxist rag called The Antichrist. The only thing that can break Comstock's surly grudge with the world is when his on-again, off-again girlfriend announces she's nine weeks pregnant and will probably have to get an abortion because she knows she can't expect any support from him. Rosemary's pregnancy in fact turns out to be the 'grow up' call that Comstock has been dodging for years. He instantly realizes "that it was a dreadful thing they were contemplating--a blasphemy, if that word had any meaning."

Comstock ducks into a library to peruse a picture book on feotal development and his first instincts about the evil of abortion are confirmed: "He came upon a print of a nine weeks' foetus. It was a deformed, gnomelike thing, a sort of clumsy caricature of a human being, with a huge domed head as big as the rest of its body. In the middle of the great blank expanse of head there was a tiny button of an ear. The thing was in profile; its boneless arm was bent, and one hand, crude as a seal's flipper, covered its face--fortunately, perhaps. Below were little skinny legs, twisted like a monkey's with the toes turned in. It was a monstrous thing, and yet strangely human. It surprised him that they should begin looking human so soon. He had pictured something much more rudimentary; a mere blob of nucleus, like a bubble of frog-spawn."

Sadly, one suspects that worthless, soulless, disposable frog-spawn is precisely what some of the world's most highly educated scientisis think they're dealing with as they tinker and experiment in the field of human reproduction. It is time for pro-lifers to roll out their heavy artillery, and use the words of this universally respected writer to confound such pernicious moral idiocy.

Herman Goodden is a regular columnist. He writes from London, Ontario.
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Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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