The Races, Dinner and IVF
Thu – August 4, 2005
Was in a bit of a funk yesterday, as the post below reliably attests. Sometimes you just want to stop the train here. And get off. Before anything gets any worse.
Do you ever feel that way? A sense of some impending… not doom precisely, but something maybe slightly less forbidding. The feeling that your nose has not quite yet been punched, but that something is on the way to do so. You can almost feel the blood trickling…
Well, that was yesterday morning. So being still on leave (amen, amen) I did what I normally try do when faced with insubstantial dread: I went to the gym. Lashed the water at high noon on a sunny day for a good two clicks to try and think of something else, like the way your shoulders and lungs feel after your fourth or fifth 50, and how quickly the second hand sweeps through the 30 second rest you’ve allowed yourself. After 45 minutes or so, it was mission accomplished on the mental side, but I was left with the sad realization, having been an indoor swimmer all my career, that pool water makes at best an indifferent sunscreen. Irish skin, quite unaccustomed, so very sad.
Came home to find the house quite unoccupied, the Hobbit and the other elves having absented themselves to mall in search of appropriate attire for the evening’s festivities: Turf Club seats at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Horse racing, doncha know? Sport of kings, etc. One dresses up. We were also expected to gamble – apparently that’s what one does at the races.
I’m not much of a gambler, truth be told. Not terribly keen. On gambling. Not from any sense of Protestant priggishness, but rather from a kind of resigned futility: Harrah’s doesn’t build the big hotel and hire the pretty girls in high heels off folks like me and thee who make money gambling, oh, no. And too often I’ve seen sad people at casino’s who need to win, and so of course, they don’t. But I don’t condemn, free country, innit? And I have even participated, from year to year: For me, gambling has meant something to do at a blackjack table in Las Vegas (and later, Reno) every other year or so, between professional exhibitions and symposia (*cough*) at the Tailhook Reunion.
Our cross-the-street neighbors had a pass loaned by a friend to get us up into the Turf Club, well above the unwashed masses, rubbing elbows with the Hoi Polloi hoity-toity. Which is a word you never hear anymore. Anyway, we all took advantage. The pass was also supposed to get us out of the $20 valet parking, but when the parking attendant saw the pass he also looked (fruitlessly, as it turned out) for a little red sticker on the car. He even offered us me a chance to prevaricate about our circumstances: “On the other car, perhaps?” A kindly offer, no doubt well-intentioned, but I turned him down. Twenty bucks I’ve got and call it cheap to save from telling a lie. After all, my hypocrisy only goes so far </Val Kilmer / Tombstone impression>. Parked, paid and perambulated up the escalator to where the betting deeds are done by half-soused, well-met hail-fellows in sports coats and open collared shirts. My tie (Brooks Brothers too, very proud) found itself leaving my neck (ahhh) for a new home in my jacket pocket. The Hobbit and I, having not the least idea what we were doing, and not particularly caring, of course quickly won a tidy sum of cash on a quinella (who knew? Certainly not us, until moments before). Tidy enough in fact to repay our parking fare, and dinner besides. With drinks. In Del Mar.
Which was nice.
So, yes – dinner with the neighbors, who’ve lived across from us for the better part of seven or eight months now (could be longer, I’m not the right guy to ask). The Kat watches their kids from time to time, as does the Biscuit, if she’s not otherwise engaged. We’ve socialized with them before on a couple of different occasions, and now are moving past the standard California wave and smile into actually learning more about each other. She’s a physical trainer, freelance right now – unaffiliated with any of the local body shops. Made the novice tippler’s mistake of matching your humble scribe drink for drink (for drink) on cosmopolitans, the first time we went out together. Weighing in at just over half my body weight, dripping wet. Checked out early from dinner. Felt a bit better after her nap.
He’s a specialist in in vitro fertilization (IVF), brilliant and affable. Helps people make babies, people that are having a hard time of it. Call it a labor of love if you like, admit that practice makes perfect and you still have to concede that at a certain point a couple wants to make it catch and can get pretty darned frustrated when that doesn’t happen. So: Good work, says I, and a man can be proud of it. He’s also painfully aware that it’s controversial in some sectors of society, but he’s got it all worked out in his head: God gave us brains to use them, etc. Who’s to say what’s right for everyone, and so on. People have to follow their conscience.
At some point, while I was chatting with his fair lady, it became apparent that he and the Hobbit had ventured down the winding and tree covered road of IVF, which leads of course to the ivy-dappled side alley of stem cells lines and runs right past the mercilessly forbidding off-ramp of human cloning. I tried manfully to focus on what his wife was saying, while trying to attend as well with half an ear to the Hobbit’s conversation. I know of more than a few women who can do that sort of multi-tasking successfully, but if there are any men so equipped, then in this at least, they are my lord and master.
Their conversation had gotten into the shoal waters of both religion and politics by the time I was unwillingly drawn in. These conversations can be truly revealing, and therefore uncomfortable ground for those who barely know each other, and who are otherwise having a pleasant time in each other’s company. Also, there is a naval proscription from talking about such things at the wardroom table, and some of this carries over into my purely domestic life, making me doubly awkward. I explained my reticence in just those terms, but several batteries of adult beverages had already been discharged and my table mates were having no part of it. Too, there comes a point where the unwillingness to express opinions can be mistaken for the notion that one doesn’t hold any.
So, I told them that I thought IVF was a wonderful thing. I also told them that it makes perfect sense to me that excess embryos created for the purpose of human implantation, but no longer needed, should rather be open to scientific development for stem cell cloning rather than merely discarded (see George F. Will on Sen. Frist , et al). I also said that it is not a very far walk at all between the circumstances of those embryos created for the sole purpose of generating life where before it could not take hold to experimental human embryos explicitly created in order to be destroyed, so as to help ameliorate some other, third person’s life. A class of human life, in other words, created only so that it might be destroyed. Must, in fact, be destroyed. In favor of another’s. That gives me the moral and ethical willies, quite frankly. Color me a Luddite, if it suits you.
I repeated the cliché, nevertheless true for being tired, that our scientific knowledge is fast outpacing our ability to weigh what is right and proper for us to do with that knowledge. And that absent some sort of informed, democratic consensus, I was concerned we were charging right towards the moral precipice of “whatever.” Doing things because we can, in other words. Children, playing with loaded guns: Bang-bang, you’re dead!
I read somewhere recently, and please forgive me for not remembering where (or better yet, remind me) that a gent was talking to a lady who expressed that her only concern in life was that her daughter might still have access to an abortion, if in need. The gent replied to her (paraphrasing), “Madam, I should not be the least bit concerned about your daughter’s right to an abortion. In fact, if I’m reading the trend lines correctly, she’ll not only be able to abort whenever she wants, but she’ll also have the right to put you to sleep, when she thinks it appropriate.” Which took us down that whole Terri Schiavo side road, and autopsy results (and people who somehow felt that those autopsy results were vindicatory, post hoc ergo propter hoc). But only momentarily.
What with all this racing for the ethical borderlines, does anyone seriously doubt we are – Weeks? Months? A year or two at the outset? From news that an actual human being has been cloned and that now there are two of them. What then? No one has a freakin’ clue, is what, except those soulless (speaking literally) types who can’t wait to shatter the last relic of pre-modernist morality – the idea that somehow, human life is, well… you know: Sacred.
Build life. Snatch it away. Choose who gets to live, who has to die. Weigh and balance quality of life for someone else. After all: Are we not gods?
This combines with the secular trend towards salad bar morality – pick and choose what you like because, after all, who are we to judge?
Gods! Are we not gods?
Here it is then: The kind of power we strive to claim is not consistent with our concomitant unwillingness to stand in judgment of the things we might do with that power – but isn’t it true that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”? Well, what then might we call an informed consistency? Progress, says I. Or at least, a stopping of the train here. Before things get any worse.
See, I’m not sure I’m ready for this. These kinds of decisions take us to the very brink of a chasm which plunges down to a bleak, mechanical and dreary world, one very far from that we grew up knowing. Soulless, unmagical, materialistic. Not sure I want to live in a place like that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for imposed virtue (which is really no virtue at all) nor even selecting one moral code from all the competing sources. After all, our only real domestic faith in America is democracy. Most of us at least, still believe in that. But these are big steps we’re taking – I’d just like to make sure we’re taking them carefully and judiciously. Hate to gamble on something like this, and be wrong. We do so need to get it right. And I feel that punch coming from around the corner…