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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Human Fetuses and Panda Babies

David Mills, over at Mere Comments, reminds us of a very important principle in this illuminating post: that it matters how we say what we say. If words are units of thought, then the word choices one makes presumably reflect particular ideas.

He cites two Associated Press articles from August 3, 2005.

"A 13-year-old giant panda gave birth to a cub at San Diego Zoo, but a second
baby died in the womb, officials said Wednesday."--Associated Press, Aug. 3

"A cancer-ravaged woman robbed of consciousness by a stroke has given birth after being kept on life support for three months to give her fetus extra time to develop."--Associated Press, Aug. 3

A number of years ago, I read the book by Dr. Jean Garton called Who Broke the Baby? It opened my eyes to the importance of the language we choose to employ, particularly in controversial debates.

So am I pro-life or anti-abortion? Actually, I am both. But being pro-life includes so much more than just being opposed to abortion. Is it a fetus or a baby? It's both, but to exclusively use the word "fetus" for a pre-born child when the common parlance would be to call it a baby (as the panda story demonstrates) is to reflect a certain bias.

This is also why we should call the process of baby-making procreation rather than reproduction. The first term suggests the miracle of life, that a man and a woman participate in God's creation of a new human being. The second term is about production. A baby is a product. It brings to mind assembly lines and heavy industry.

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Carl said...

Thanks, Scott, for a good analysis of using language, especially in this context. You are absolutely right!(or should I say, "correct" since you probably don't want to be labled "right," right?!) Man, it's not that easy to be careful
about word choices!
Anyway, I'm going to print this and save it for future sermon use,
maybe on "Life Sunday"...but then,
isn't every Sunday a "life Sunday"
since Our Lord rose from the grave to give us LIFE!

Anonymous said...

But Pandas are so cute, they wouldn't hurt anyone, therefore cute cuddly little “baby” applies.

Not like those big mean humans whose “fetuses” grow into kids that ruin your life, are a drag on society and adults who ruin the earth and squander its resources, right? ;)

Preachrboy said...

Every time they try to paint us as "anti-choice", I think that makes them "anti-life", or, "pro-death!". Fair is fair, huh?

Yes. Words mean things. There's a lot said in how something is said.

Dr. Weiss, the bioethics guy at St. Louis, would always make this same point about saying "procreation" versus "reproduction".

Great post, Scott!

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