I have long had a policy of not taking advantage of my position when editing letters that criticize or contradict something that I have written or edited. When an argumentative letter comes in, I like to print it and let it stand on its own, without my instant rebuttal tacked on at the end. How would I feel, after all, if someone posted an addendum at the end of one of my columns?
So it is this time, with the letter below from a reader on the other side of the abortion issue raised in last week’s column.
To the Editor:
RKR Misses the Mark
I read your reflection on George Will’s article in which he describes the beauty and worth of the life of his son who has Down Syndrome. You take him to task for springboarding from the beauty of his son’s life, to the value of life, to the right that the unborn have to not have that life (once it is initiated) taken away from them. In your response you springboard from what appears to be a semantic concern regarding Mr. Will’s use of the word “casual” (would “commonplace” or “widely accepted” have been better?), to some scenario about tough times befalling certain individuals, to the implication that that is somehow justification for the convenient termination of life. And then from there to some comments regarding Mr. Will’s economic status.
If you had wanted to focus on the wrong that society does by ignoring the difficult times of the families you describe, that may have been one thing. But I’m not certain I can follow your train of thought about how that somehow might justify the decision and action to terminate a life. “Gee, I’ve been out of a job for 6 months now and I can’t afford that moocher brother of mine; I guess I’ll have to kill him.” or “Well, given our current circumstances I don’t think we can have Mother live with us anymore, and we certainly can’t afford a home; so . . .”
Mr. Will’s piece may have been, as yours was as well, a reflection on a personal story (him with his son; you with your experience or observations regarding a Planned Parenthood clinic) that provides some insight into a larger national problem. He aimed at abortion and hit the mark. You should or could have aimed at the plight of the poor, but instead chose to focus your remarks in a different direction.
Fair enough, Mr. McLane. Thanks for your letter and thanks for sending it under your own name.
As tempted as I am to respond to some of McLane’s arguments, I will not. But I will pass along some other comments received from readers in the past week.
From a U.S. 1 contributor whose comment explains his anonymity:
“I didn’t want to post this on the website because it would seem like I was buttering you up in public. But, as the father of an Aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome) son, I couldn’t agree with you more. That was a well-written and thoughtful answer to George Will’s column. Thank you.”
From a Princeton-based attorney who wrote to me at my private E-mail account to “vent” about the right-to-life crowd:
“You have hit a grand slam home run with your column about George Will’s column. Like you, I am pro choice. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being portrayed as a murderer, or an enabler of murder, or an entitlement-gorged baby boomer.
“As to your column: it has perfect tone, is without anger (any effort on my part would have been seething for sure), it gives all due respect and acceptance to George Will, but you show with great examples that Will’s black and white verities do not exist in the harsh world that Will seems to know nothing about.”
And finally, from a reader who expanded the discussion in a surprising direction:
“Excellent editorial on June 13. I wish more folks thought out such issues in that way. I’m on the Board of a national organization that works to provide more compassionate and responsive care at the end of life (www.compassionandchoices.org), including physician aid in dying. For those folks who believe in redemptive suffering, a trip to a nursing home or a hospice is similarly instructive. People need informed choices at both ends of life.”
I google “redemptive suffering” and find several Roman Catholic-based websites reflecting on the Biblical basis of the concept. I will have to think about this topic for a while. Another partly faith-based argument about when life ends, as opposed to when life begins. Another column. And no doubt another letter to the editor, as we all seek the elusive last word.