One heart and one life at a time


Thanksgiving 2015

(Quoted from National Review Online, 11/22/2012. Photo by Ellen Kolb.)


Court ruling re frozen embryos: “thaw and destroy”

Wesley Smith on embryo caseToday’s cautionary tale about treating human beings as property:

When Mimi Lee…and Stephen Findley froze five embryos, the couple signed a contract agreeing to destroy them if they ever divorced. The couple did divorce in 2013, and now a judge is holding them to the contract requiring them to “thaw and destroy” the embryos, according to USA Today. California Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo decided the tragic case Wednesday, ruling that the divorced couple must abide by their original contract.

“Decisions about family and children often are difficult, and can be wrenching when they become disputes,” the judge wrote. “The policy best suited to ensuring that these disputes are resolved in a clear-eyed manner … is to give effect to the intentions of the parties at the time of the decision at issue.” [See full post, 11/20/15]

A contract between two people, providing for the disposal of a commodity (for such is the status of human embryos in such cases), has been interpreted to mean exactly what it says. Desperately sad on every level, to be sure, but not so much tragic as inevitable. This is not the only such case – merely the one that’s in the news this week. My heart aches for the mother of the children, who opposes the disposal demanded by the contract she nonetheless must have read before signing.

Treating human offspring as disposable just doesn’t square with the innate dignity of human life. But but but…Who could oppose the tender and loving desire to bear a child? Where’s your compassion? When I read about Judge Massullo’s decision, something written in another context by Flannery O’Connor came to mind: “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror.”

Tenderness, love, desire for children: it all came down to “thaw and destroy.”

Wesley J. Smith, as clear-eyed a bioethicist as there is, had a brief and blunt and clear reaction: “It seems to me such agreements should be unenforceable as against public policy. We are not talking about dividing furniture or a contract to sell a house in the event of divorce. The contract requires the killing of nascent human life. Perhaps if people knew that an agreement to destroy embryos wasn’t enforceable, they would think very long and hard before bringing them into being….We will move heaven and earth to get what we want…until we decide we don’t want it.” (“Thoughts on ‘Destroy the Embryos’ Ruling,” 11/19/15)


(Off topic, worth mentioning: go find O’Connor’s anthology Mystery and Manners, which contains “Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann” from which comes the quote above.)

Brief comments on Jindal, Bush and Carson

I’ve surprised myself by not picking a presidential candidate yet. I usually jump on board with someone early. I’m starting to lean, which is to say I’m down to three names. Maybe four.

A few things about current candidates have come to mind this week.

  • With Gov. Bobby Jindal at Red State Gathering, 2013.
    With Gov. Bobby Jindal at Red State Gathering, 2013.

    My best wishes to Bobby Jindal, who has just suspended his campaign. (By the way, candidates, enough with this “suspended” business. Just once I’d like to hear a departing candidate simply say “I’m outta here.”) I’m interested in what’s next for the man who met Planned Parenthood protests by publicly showing the Center for Medical Progress videos on the lawn of the governor’s mansion in Louisiana.

  • I am not a Jeb Bush partisan at this point, but I hope the people who are pounding him – have you seen his poll numbers? – recall his refusal as Florida governor to participate in the starvation of Terri Schiavo in 2005. I honor him for that, whatever real or perceived defects he might have as a presidential candidate.
  • …which brings me to Dr. Ben Carson, who as near as I can tell is a fine and gifted man who spent decades saving children’s lives. Full marks for that. He’s off my short list, though – until and unless there’s a retraction – thanks to these remarks he made a few days ago about the death of Terri Schiavo, as reported by the Washington Post: “‘We face those kinds of issues all the time and while I don’t believe in euthanasia, you have to recognize that people that are in that condition do have a series of medical problems that occur that will take them out….Your job [as a doctor] is to keep them comfortable throughout that process and not to treat everything that comes up.’ When the reporter asked whether Carson thought it was necessary for Congress to intervene, he said: ‘I don’t think it needed to get to that level. I think it was much ado about nothing.'”
Dr. Ben Carson at CPAC 2013. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Dr. Ben Carson at CPAC 2013. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Let that one roll around your brain for awhile. “That condition,” for Ms. Schiavo, was a brain injury. “Not treat everything that comes up”: you mean like removal of her feeding tube? That isn’t something that “comes up.” It’s something that was imposed. Schiavo died 13 days after her nutrition and hydration were withdrawn. (“Take them out,” indeed.) I’m not a fan of the death penalty, least of all when disability is the reason for imposing it.

True confession: I’m not likely to pick up a Democratic ballot in February (indie voter, open primary), unless I see a tactical advantage in doing so. Requiring humans to be “wanted” before a right to life attaches, promoting compulsory public support for abortion providers, opposition to Little Sisters of the Poor in their resistance to the HHS mandate: I’ll pass. Don’t preen, GOP; two words: “capital punishment.”

Learning math, the Ray Burton way

Longtime New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton passed away on this date in 2013. I’m re-posting what I wrote at that time about the most important lesson I learned from him.

The Presidential Range, seen from Lancaster: Ray Burton territory. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
The Presidential Range, seen from Lancaster: Ray Burton territory. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

A visitor to my home state of New Hampshire could be forgiven this week for wondering about the flags at half-staff. An extended observance of Veterans’ Day? The loss of another Granite Stater on an overseas battlefield? No. Ray Burton has died, after 18 terms on the Executive Council, representing the northern two-thirds of New Hampshire.

Think about that: he won eighteen state-level elections. He was a county commissioner for good measure. He knew how to run and win and serve.

I learned from watching him. The principal lesson: if you can’t do math, don’t bother making noise about how much you want to be elected in order to … fill in the blank: enact pro-life legislation, get that road built, raise or cut that tax, fight to keep a piece of land open for recreation. Obvious? Not to me, when I was a younger and less seasoned activist. I thought just Doing the Right Thing would sweep all political considerations before it.

Twenty-some-odd years ago, I was working in a certain organization with legislative goals we pursued with equal parts passion and naïveté. Some policy initiative we favored – I forget which one – was shot down in the Executive Council. One of the offending votes had been cast by that darn Ray Burton, before he was a legend. We grumbled to each other and said,”Why can’t we find someone to run against him?” I can only plead youth and inexperience. A less charitable observer might simply say to me “you were an idiot.”

  • With one exception, no one at that meeting lived in the North Country, which to us meant anything north of Concord. Come to think of it, Burton’s district stretched almost that far south, while extending northward clear to the Canadian border.
  • No one in the room knew how many votes had been cast in Burton’s district in the previous election. We didn’t know who his opponents had been, in either the primary or the general.
  • None of us, including the sole Grafton County resident among us (who was a relative newcomer to New Hampshire), knew anything about why voters supported Burton.
  • None of us had met Ray Burton.

Needless to say, Councilor Burton had nothing to fear from us. Quite apart from our collective ignorance of his district, we had no math skills. We didn’t know how many votes he had garnered or how many votes it would take to get all that, plus one. After that, I learned how to study election results and do the arithmetic.

All of you who are passionately pro-life and yearn for more pro-life elected representatives, trust me on this, because each generation has to learn it anew: Understanding the absolute fundamental dignity of each human life is basic – but to translate that into public policy, learn to count.

I said that math was the principal thing I learned from the Councilor. That was a couple of decades before I actually met him. Then, I learned more, starting with this: he was pro-North Country. It didn’t matter to the vast majority of his constituents whether he was pro-anything else. He knew his people, and he covered an astounding distance every year to stay familiar with his district. His constituent service was second to none. Moreover, he liked people in a way few officeholders can honestly claim to do.

I worked on my first statewide campaign in 2010 for gubernatorial candidate John Stephen. I remember the first time I was sent to a meeting as the sole representative of the campaign –  a GOP meeting in Wolfeboro. Every face in the room was new to me. I was beyond nervous. I was shaking in my shoes, notwithstanding the fact that I was about the same age as most of the people at the meeting. (In fact, I was a generation older than most of my co-workers.)

Ray Burton was the evening’s featured speaker. When he arrived, he made the rounds of all the party regulars in the room, all very familiar to him. Then he approached me, offering a greeting and a handshake, seeing I was new in town.

In those few moments of conversation, he put me at ease and managed to treat me as though I were the only person in the room. Since his death, I have heard other people talk about similar encounters. When Councilor Burton spoke with you, he spoke with you.Amazingly to me, after that first meeting in Wolfeboro, he remembered my name every time we ran into each other during the campaign.

Campaign staff members put up with all kinds of attitudes from all kinds of people when we’re on the road for our candidate. That’s part of the job, and we know it, and we take it in stride. The only thing I ever had to take in stride on the campaign trail from Councilor Burton was the same courtesy he showed everyone. He always, and I mean always, had a cheerful greeting and a kind word for me and my colleagues. He kept a gimlet eye on how we were doing our jobs, mind you, but he was always gracious at the same time.

Councilor Burton had challengers, of course. He liked to say that he always ran as though he were five votes behind. Other Republicans were sometimes moved to run against him in the primaries. Some of them even managed to hold him to under 80% of the vote.

Yup, he was pretty good at math.

Some of his votes drove me nuts. He never voted thoughtlessly, though. The interests of the people of District One were his only concerns, for more than thirty years. I should have known that all along – even twenty years ago.

A portrait to ponder

I had some time to kill before the recent stats vote in Concord, so I crossed the street to the State House to engage in some New Hampshire tourism: watching presidential candidates make their formal filings with the Secretary of State. (Rubio, Fiorina, Sanders, and assorted fans and protesters: best free show in town.) The State House walls are lined with portraits of ex-Governors, each with a little bio. This one caught my eye, just outside the SoS office, prompting me to take a very quick and poorly-focused photo.

Portrait of Ralph Metcalfe, NH Governor 1855-56.
Portrait of Ralph Metcalf, NH Governor 1855-56.

“GOV. RALPH METCALF 1855, 1856. Metcalf (1798-1858) was born at Charlestown, NH. He graduated from Dartmouth College (1823) and studied law for three years. He was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1826. Metcalf practiced law at Newport, NH, then at Binghamton, NY. He then returned to Claremont, NH and entered state service as secretary of state (1831-1836). He clerked for New Hampshire’s Hon. Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Treasury, at Washington, D.C. (1838-1840). In 1841 Metcalf returned to practice law at Newport, NH. Metcalf was appointed Sullivan County’s register of probate in 1845. He was elected a state representative in 1852. Metcalf won election as the anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party’s candidate for governor in 1855. In 1856 he was reelected. Metcalf campaigned both times against the public sale of liquor, and against Roman Catholicism, both immigrant issues. He retired in 1857 and died a year later.”

Against Catholics, against immigrants. And this guy got elected twice. There’s his portrait, up there with all the other elected leaders of the Granite State. I don’t think it should be taken down and consigned to the basement, as embarrassing as it is to acknowledge that the Know-Nothings had any traction in the Granite State. Leave it as a reminder that even elected officials, and the electoral majorities behind them, can be dead wrong about some important things. Leave it as a reminder that some wins are fleeting.