Author Topic: Christmas Babies (Dec. 2004)  (Read 1180 times)

Richard Johnson

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Christmas Babies (Dec. 2004)
« on: December 07, 2004, 03:40:42 PM »
Christmas Babies ("Forum Letter" December, 2004)

Some folks think of Christmas and gifts. I think of Christmas and babies. Maybe the two aren’t so different; babies, in the grand scheme of things, after all, are gifts. At least I think of them that way.

Babies are not just the consequence of unprotected sex. They are the Creator’s creation, a God-given gift.

Of course, in the aftermath of every Christmas there is the problem of what to do with unwanted gifts that cannot be returned. When it comes to the unwanted gift of babies, Christmas time or not, our present social solution is abortion.

There is precedence for it. What we do with unwanted babies is not so different from what the Romans of twenty-some centuries ago did with theirs. It was the undisputed right of a Roman father to decide which of his newborn children to keep and which to discard. The otherwise eminent Marcus Porcius Cato, known to history more familiarly as Cato the Elder (d. 149 BCE), could argue in his treatise on agriculture that efficient management of labor and resources required Roman fathers to quickly “put away” frail and sickly babies likely to prove unproductive. This was a custom approved by other ancient luminaries, done for what everyone regarded as the public interest. Plato, Aristotle, Seneca each approved.

Sometimes the unwanted children were drowned or strangled or exposed to the elements. Sometimes they were deposited at a crossroads where, if they survived, they might be taken in and raised as slaves by others. In any case, it was the father’s absolute right of choice. His wife, lacking legal rights of her own in ancient society, had no say about it.

These days choice has shifted to the woman’s right to decide the fate of her baby. The male lacks any legal standing to oppose the woman’s decision — although we learn that males are often the ones pressuring the woman for an abortion.

All this is very strange to me and difficult to understand, especially at Christmas. I distinctly recall an NBC Nightly News report some few years back of what might best be called a “partial-birth” heart transplant. The unborn baby had developed a rare but not unknown heart ailment, resulting in weakened heart muscle which was shrinking the baby’s heart.

The usual prognosis for such cases is that the heart will be unable to sustain the child for very long after birth. While the child was still in the womb, a donor heart was sought and found. At roughly 30 weeks, midway through the third trimester, labor was induced and the child was delivered by C-section. Within six hours of birth, the baby had a new heart.

When examined and treated in the womb, the fetus becomes a baby, a patient for whom all the medical arts are available. But suppose the woman simply had decided the expense, emotional investment, and future medical cost was just too much? Nothing could have prevented her from seeking an abortion and, in the circumstance, Cato the Elder certainly would have agreed with the choice.

Unwanted gifts. Christmas. The Virgin is told “no room” for her Child, and seeks shelter elsewhere. And I think of babies, every Christmas.

--Russell E. Saltzman

Copyright 2004 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS