Life and Birth in the 1700s
February 15, 1995
To the Editor:
Maine Campus Newspaper
University of Maine
The Declaration of Independence was drafted in the late 1700s, when the great advance in technology was the cast-iron, wood-burning stove, which brought cooking and home heating out of the huge, smoky open hearths and into the kitchen and parlor.
In the 1700s, life and breath were considered synonymous, as they had been since Genesis 2:7. Live births were ceremoniously recorded in huge bound volumes by town clerks with beautiful penmanship. Stillbirths were seldom noted.
It was a time when a good surgeon could lop off a gangrenous arm or leg in a barber shop in less than a minute - without benefit of anesthesia or antibiotics. Vaccinations and tetanus shots were a century or more away, diseases ran rampant, infant mortality was high. Living was hard, and life expectancy short.
Considering the primitive state of medical science in the 1700s, Terence Hughes' claim in his Feb. 8 guest column that our founding fathers intended to protect life from the moment of conception is historically impossible.
Another point - our Declaration of Independence states that it is "the right of the People" to alter or to abolish their own government. Great concept. But individuals do not have the right under that clause to alter or abolish other individuals, a la Paul Hill or John Salvi. To imply that, as Hughes has, is to endorse anarchy and a lynch-mob mentality.
Interesting how Hughes blames the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision for all of society's ills: poverty, abandonment of women, abuse of "unaborted children" (his term), deadbeat dads, sexual hedonism. If those are his real concerns, looks to me like Hughes should focus not on pregnant women, but on irresponsible men.
By the way, Hughes misquoted me in his Feb. 8 column. Not only do I see a difference between a carrot seed and a fetus, I also see the difference between potential and actual. A carrot seed has all the genetic makeup of a carrot, but is not a carrot. Both that carrot seed and that fetus must develop biologically to some logical point before society recognizes each as individuals - be it an individual carrot or an individual person.
And if you would really like to know how that two-hour debate went between Hughes and me at the Bangor Public Library, I have transcripts available.