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Cast Out the Beam

Thursday, 21st June, 2001

I think it strikes fundamentally at what makes democracy tick. I'm talking about Jeanine Salomone and I'll get back to her soon.

One of the definitions of 'democracy' is 'majority rule'. Take a vote and whoever comes out on top wins through. It's simple.

I have objections, however. In a country home to such an educational divide, I can have no confidence in the validity of any decision of the majority. Don't forget also that the level of national gullibility is at a record high and the media control both the flow of information and the timbre of the flow. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not still out to get you.

Put most simply, I tend to disagree with the masses most of the time. Who made you the majority anyway? I didn't vote for you.

What scares me most is that they aren't just becoming more ignorant, but they believe that they're becoming more informed and intelligent. Of course, my noting this could be confirmation of the fact - am I one of the very people I don't agree with. Note that I use 'they' instead of 'we' because I'm putting myself apart from the masses. I don't pretend to speak for 'them'. I don't even pretend to understand 'them'.

The difference is that I'm not trying to stop other people doing things. I may disagree with what they choose, but I'm not going to get upset about them doing it. I can always make my own choice to go elsewhere, ignore the whole bunch of them and do my own thing.

The more I think about this whole democracy issue, the more I see problems. People are opinionated creatures, increasingly so, and they call on all sorts of moral and ethical arguments to put their case forward. The catch is that when it comes to morals and ethics, there are no absolutes. These aren't sciences.

Something is moral or ethical only because it is considered so by the majority, just as something is considered a crime only because a ruling body decrees it so. It also applies to situation: what is moral in one context may not apply to another.

I truly loathe people who claim moral high ground. Don't ever take the high ground with me on this: your morals are not mine; your ethics are not mine; your philosophy on life is totally different to mine. Don't claim the right to speak for me, because I have not granted it to you. Don't dare to assume that you are right and I am wrong because there is no right or wrong: there is only personal philosophy.

And so to Jeanine Salomone and her relevance here.

She is a Frenchwoman who sought IVF treatment at the age of 58. In France, egg implantation is illegal in post-menopausal women, so she went to Los Angeles, where, four years later, she gave birth to a child. Purely on those grounds there are moral arguments, but the case is far more complex than that.

It seems that a donor was found to provide two eggs to be fertilised. This procedure duly took place and each egg was implanted into a woman, one being the donor and the other being Jeanine. The resulting children are therefore technically twins, but by different mothers, making the family tree rather complex. Moreover, their shared father is Jeanine's brother, Robert, adding to the confusion no end. The story also doesn't end here either.

Unless authorities intervene, the babies are to be brought up by Robert and Jeanine, who both live with their eighty year old mother. The police claim that 'the members of this family ferociously hate each other and use the police to settle their fights.' At one point Robert left the house to live in a caravan where he promptly shot himself through the chin in a fit of depression, possibly prompting this entire saga, as without descendants their two million dollar inheritance would go elsewhere.

To sum up, Robert and Jeanine tricked a doctor into performing an operation he would consider unethical, outside of their own country which would consider it illegal, in order to produce two babies to settle an inheritance dispute. To say we are well within the boundaries of complex moral and ethical dispute is an understatement, but obviously Robert and Jeanine felt that what they did was morally justifiable. Who are we to dictate otherwise?

Jeanine herself says, 'I may be 62 and my brother 52, but we are better able to bring up the children than a couple of drug addicts with a kid who are living off welfare. Why judge us and not them?'

I'd agree that she has a point. Some of the people who will be horrified by this case will quite happily beat their dogs, their children and their wives. They will lie and cheat and steal to fund their drug habits. They will use abortion as contraception. They will smoke in public. They will cheat on their husbands. It's always dangerous to cast the first stone, especially as the last person on this planet to be without flaw was nailed to a tree about two thousand years ago.

Let's look at the details of this case.

Firstly, should we get upset about a 62 year old woman giving birth? Parents that old are likely to die while the children are still very young, which will be a traumatic experience. Nature, who we should listen to far more often than we do, has built-in mechanisms to stop this happening - only the technological marvels of Man keep it possible. Do I like the idea? No, I don't. Do I think it's morally wrong? I'm not prepared to make that judgement call. We don't object when men of this age, or even older, become fathers; it would be sexist, or at least inconsistent, to deny women the same right.

What about the incest issue? Technically there isn't one: Robert is presumably not related to the donor of the eggs, and Jeanine herself is merely a host mother. It complicates the family tree for sure, but only to those of us used to the standard Christian family model. Muslim men are allowed four wives and Mormons often still have complex marriage arrangements, regardless of the law of the land. We cannot preach religious tolerance while being religiously intolerant ourselves. Read Robert Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' and come back to me about the validity of different forms of marriage.

But the children are going to be brought up by two people who hate each other. Like this is new? Like this doesn't apply to half the marriages in the western world? Most rape occurs within a family unit, as does most murder. Look at the statistics for divorce or infidelity or domestic violence. We simply cannot keep control over who gives birth and who doesn't. If the children are seen to be in danger, then the local authorities will remove them to care.

What about the money? It all comes down to the inheritance. Yes, it seems to do, but money is what western civilisation is based on. It is the root of all evil, after all. Why not outlaw money? Shouldn't we alter a culture that tells us that greed is good? If we didn't live in a civilisation that encourages the hoarding of money, then Jeanine Salomone probably wouldn't have done what she did and this whole issue would be null and void.

If we're going to justify the parts, then we have to justify the whole, and while I don't agree with many of these parts, I can't honestly condemn any as being immoral or unethical.

There are those, of course, who would call IVF treatment an abomination. It's not natural; it's not Christian; it's not fair. My answer would be that life isn't fair and that there are those who would remove the woman's right to vote, to walk in public without a veil, or to answer back.

If you really have to get Biblical on me, then check out Matthew 7:5 first: 'Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.'

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