A recent episode of the CBS prime-time legal drama Family Law explored the controversial subject of stem cells. Titled “Arlene’s Choice,” the program’s lawyers represent a mother five months pregnant who wants to induce delivery early. She wants to obtain stem cells from her newborn to save the life of her eight-year-old son, who is dying of aplastic anemia. However, the baby has very little chance of surviving.
The judge denies the woman and her husband permission to induce the labour, saying he would not jeopardize one life for the sake of another. Nevertheless, they are desperate to save their older son and, believing this to be his only chance, they defy the court’s ruling and have the labour induced while the mother is under police custody in the hospital. Sadly, shortly after their new son’s birth, his older brother succumbs to his illness – before the stem cells could help him.
Against this backdrop of legal maneuverings, the attorneys themselves wrestle with the sanctity -of-life issue. One dissenting female attorney challenges the ethics of her associates to fight for the right of the mother to risk one of her children’s lives in order to save another. Another succinctly states, parroting pro-abortion rhetoric, that a fetus is not a child. Still another, who suffers from dwarfism, referred to the pro-life judge as a “fascist” – though she later comments that some parents contemplate abortion for their unborn child when diagnosed with her condition. And another ponders what to do after she discovers she’s pregnant.
In a departure from other recent, prime-time programs, this episode of Family Law doesn’t depict those characters with pro-life sympathies as extremists. Each character, including the judge, is sympathetically portrayed as deeply mulling this issue.
From a pro-life perspective, this heart-wrenching episode is notable for its acknowledgement that, despite the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade, the unborn child is a person: The court appoints a guardian to decide, if he dies, how to dispose of the baby’s stem cells and organs. And more than one character expresses pro-life beliefs.
In addition to some prime-time programs that have tackled this issue in recent weeks, two recent public opinion polls indicate many are rethinking the personhood of unborn children – and coming down on the side of life. The MSNBC website began a poll on Jan 22 – the 29th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – asking if Roe should be overturned and abortion made illegal. To date, 70 per cent have answered yes (out of 14,637 respondents).
In conjunction with the Family Law episode, the CBS website featured a poll asking: “Would you kill someone if it would save your spouse or child’s life?” Overwhelmingly, the respondents said no.
Although neither of these polls is scientifically valid, they do indicate that, even 29 years after abortion was decriminalized, many Americans still reject it.
And in January, the Bush administration announced plans to issue a proposed regulation that would allow states to provide healthcare for unborn children, further illustrating the personhood of the unborn.
The Family Law story ends with the doctors optimistic about the newborn’s survival. But the moral issue of risking his life to obtain his stem cells remains unresolved.
Pro-lifers must keep the debate over stem cells and other related issues alive. Our leaders need to know that a majority of the American public supports life and life-affirming laws and policies.