Alert readers may have noticed a difference in The Interim last month: my only contribution to that issue was my column.  I am now taking a much needed (although probably not deserved) break and will not be contributing very much now until the October issue.

It does feel rather strange.  It is something like standing on the doorstep that first Tuesday after Labour Day as you watch the youngest head off sown the street for the first day of Grade One.  All day, you wonder how he is getting on’ you half expect a phone call from the school reporting a disaster.  But, at the end of the day you discover – somewhat ruefully – that the baby is actually old enough to get along quite nicely on his own, thank you very much.

Well, for the past five years, The Interim has been my baby and I took my break expecting the phone to ring endlessly with one disaster after another.  I am really proud of all those who are putting it together in my absence, and I felt only slightly humiliated that they managed to get their first issue through my mail box a full week before I could have done.

One of the reasons I decided to take a break was that I could no longer get through the door of my office at home, let alone find the desk.  We will gloss over the state of the rest of the house.  In the past few weeks, I have thrown out and filed, sat and read for hours at a time, and generally spring cleaned both my house and my head.

Instead of writing on one topic this month as I usually do, here are a few unconnected items that have surfaced.

Surrogate mothers

A Canadian woman who acted as a “surrogate mother” recently went public with her story.  Her motive, she said, was to counteract the bad image surrogacy has these days.  During a one-hour phone-in show on the radio, the vast majority of callers expressed their admiration for her actions.

Nobody mentioned that she is the natural, biological mother of the child.  Nor did she appear to have any maternal feelings, a sense that she was giving up her child.  Nobody asked how this kind of conception arrangement will affect these children as they grow up, even though we have ample evidence that adopted children often have difficulty accepting their biological mother’s motives for giving them up.

On this show, there was no discussion that surrogacy exploits women who are chosen solely for their ability to breed.  No one pointed out that it exploits poor women who will enter these contracts for the money.  No one bothered to note that we are treating children as commodities.  And no one objected to the way language is distorted when we call biological mothers, “surrogates.”

Selective terminations

Here is an even more nauseating use of the language.  This time it refers to the women who end up carrying multiple babies as a result of In Vitro Fertilization.  IVF is a dodgy procedure in that it does not have a very good success rate and doctors hope to increase the chances of success by implanting several embryos in the hopes that at least one will survive.

As one example, a Philadelphia woman who was carrying six babies chose “selective termination” for four of them when she was told she had a risk of miscarriage.  Doctors injected a saline solution into the chest cavities of four of the babies and the mother later gave birth to twins.  The clippings I have does not say whether or not they stayed in her womb, slowly disintegrating as their two siblings grew.

We know that children whose mothers have aborted subsequent pregnancies sometimes suffer emotionally.  How, I wonder, will the children who survive “selective termination” cope with the emotional consequences of that prenatal experience?

One theologian (Catholic) has suggested that “selective termination” is ethical because “we should do all we can to maximize survival” if all the babies are at risk.  This reminds me of the argument that, since we cannot hope to achieve full protection for pre-born children, we must support a law that only kills some of them.

Last year there was a lengthy debate about whether or not the nation’s blood supply was safe.  There were suggestions that immigrants be tested for the AIDS virus before they entered Canada.  The blood was safe, we were told, and proposals to test immigrants were said to be unnecessary and an infringement of people’s rights.

I recall hearing a representative from the Red Cross interviewed on the radio at that time.  He was asked whether Canada was testing for a newly-discovered second HIV virus.  And his response was that there was no need to monitor the blood supply for the second virus because we had no cases reported.  A year later, we have two suspected cases, both found in immigrants from Africa.  I have not seen any news reports stating that the blood supply will now be tested for this second virus.

Recently, the newspapers carried detailed reports of the information presented at the international AIDS conference just held in Stockholm.  With at least one curious omission.

CBC Radio carried a brief excerpt from a speech given by a British observer on AIDS education campaigns.  I looked in vain for printed reports of this in the Toronto newspapers.  The essence of the speech was that education campaigns may very well be backfiring and putting more people at risk of catching AIDS.  The British campaign, together with most others, is very explicit and talks about various kinds of sexual practices as well as drug abuse.  This researcher suggested that this may very well encourage people to indulge in the very kind of behaviour that they should avoid.

This sounds plausible to me, especially when we look at how large-scale sex education programmes have done very little to stem the numbers of teenage pregnancies and, in fact, encourage many teens who would otherwise remain chaste to experiment.

“Anti-pregnancy” vaccine

A prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, has just published the results of scientific research in developing an “anti-pregnancy” vaccine.

The vaccine encourages the immune system to make antibodies to block the production of the hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin.  This hormone is needed so that the mother’s immune system does not reject the fertilized egg in the early stages of pregnancy.  After a series of injections, vaccinated women would be able to “resist a pregnancy” for up to six months.

Apart from anything else, here is another wonderful manipulation of language.  Although the research is announced in terms of a new contraceptive, it is, in fact, a vaccine which produces early abortions.  It does not stop fertilization; what it does is to cause the body to reject the tiny embryo.

The vaccine has been tested over six months on ten women who have been surgically sterilized so that they would not have been pregnant at all during the trial.  Tests showed that the women carried antibody levels high enough to “bock pregnancy.”  The report said that none of the women showed “any serious side effects.”  I take this to mean that there were side effects but these are not considered serious.  No doubt third world women will be induced to act as guinea pigs for further tests.