A couple of decades ago, I stood along the side of a busy highway for an hour a couple of Sunday afternoons holding a sign that read “Abortion Kills Children”, along with about 75 others. Some honked as they drove by in a gesture of solidarity with those of us in the life chain. Others gave us the middle-finger salute, or shared their feelings with us via curse words yelled out their car windows. In the end, I wasn’t convinced that our well-meaning silent protest would change anyone’s mind, though I do remember praying that maybe the messages on our signs catch the attention of a newly-pregnant teen and cause her to rethink her plans to abort her baby.
Eventually, I shifted from sign-holding to other forms of pro-life activism that included writing/calling legislators and becoming a foster parent for a steady stream of newborns awaiting adoption. Though I continue to maintain my steadfast belief that a new human life begins at the moment of conception, I also realize that issue is far more complex than the simple words the two-dimensional cardboard sign I once carried.
Ellen Painter Dollar’s book, No Easy Choice: A Story Of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith In An Age Of Advanced Reproduction (Westminister John Knox, 2012) is a primer on just how complicated the issue can be. Dollar has a genetic condition called Osteogensis Imperfecta (OI), commonly known as brittle bone disease. After she married, she and her husband longed to start a family; a holy, God=given desire . The couple had to process their concerns about passing OI on to a child, as well as Dollar’s physical limitations. They took a leap of faith – and baby Leah was born with OI.
The couple learned that assisted reproduction (a combination of in-vitro fertilization followed by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD) could significantly reduce their chances of giving birth to another OI child. She writes, “There are reasons why parents wish and hope and pray for healthy babies, and those reasons go beyond cultural biases toward achievement and health. Quite simply, it is hard to care for a fragile child, a child for whom the most routine activities – walking in socks on a bare floor, speeding up to keep up with her class in the school hallway – are dangerous.”
As the couple wrestled with their decision about how they’d expand their family, they spoke with everyone from medical experts to philosphers, friends, family and theologians. “Daniel and I met with the rector of our Episcopal church. He declined to make a clear judgement about whether PGD was ethical for us, but he did caution us to avoid the pitfall of thinking that something is morally wrong just because it is not ‘natural’. Medical technology allows us to overcome many ‘natural diseases and injuries that killed people in generations past.”
No Easy Choice is part memoir, part summary of current medical and ethical discussion on the subject of assisted reproduction, and part “wrestling with angels” meditation on the vocation of parenthood. Dollar endeavors to present all sides of the issues raised by her family’s decision-making process in a transparent, fair and reasoned manner. I read the book as an interested lay person, not a bioethics expert, and was grateful to have Dollar guide me through the maze of questions raised by reproductive technology like PCD.
I am certain Dollar and her husband did not make their choices lightly. I am also certain that some of their choices would not have been mine.
I first got to know Dollar when she was writing for Christianity Today’s her.meneutithcs blog, and respect her as a Christian, author and friend. Her desire to give the best of herself to her children is one which every parent can affirm. That said, I believe that No Easy Choice is a valuable read for those who are trying to make sense of the brave new world of repro tech. We live in an era that demands a clearer, more informed response from us than holding up a cardboard sign on a busy highway.