Identifying the Person as the Problem: Euthanasia for Mental Illness

It was a practice that is foreign to most us today: The victim was executed for a crime committed against her. In the case of sexual defilement in which the woman was the victim, the woman was stoned to death in order to keep her uncleanliness out of the tribe. It seems barbaric to our modern-day sensitivities.

But, what if a woman wants to be punished for something done to her? What if she sees herself as too defiled to enter into the community? What if she thinks she should be killed?

Today victims of child sexual crimes and sexual assault are not put in jail or executed for being dirty. The Enlightenment brought with it the idea of autonomy, and with autonomy comes personal responsibility. The just response to sex crimes is to have the perpetrator tried and convicted in a court of law. However, in our modern world, the community’s responsibility toward the victim is a bit hazy. Dealing with the aftermath of sexual crimes, in particular, tends to be private and personal.

The Dutch Euthanasia Commission granted a 29-year-old woman permission to die by physician-assisted suicide. She suffered from post-traumatic stress from childhood sexual abuse that occurred from age 5 to 15. Among her mental health co-morbidities (because people with PTSD tend to express several types of symptoms), she had what was deemed “untreatable” anorexia due to depression and anxiety.

The Psychological Damage of Sex Crimes

In the up-coming issue of Salvo (Issue 37), I wrote the Casualty Report on sex trafficking. In doing the research for this report, one of the key ways that traffickers and pimps maintain control of their victims is by making them feel worthless. By shaming their victims through abusive and degrading tactics, the victim will not only lose her will to fight back, but she will lose hope for a way out. This is how pimps “train their victims.” Once the cycle of shame has begun, the victim will stay in the abusive relationship because she doesn’t believe she deserves better. Even once she is out of the abusive situation, she will often engage in self-harm as a way to cope with her deep-seated sense of worthlessness.

In his book Shame Interrupted Ed Welch says that “any sexual violation brings shame on the victim…it should be bring shame on the perpetrator” (Welch, 14). Shame is something far deeper and more intense than guilt. It is dehumanizing. Welch defines shame as

[Y]ou were disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses. (Welch, 2)

The 29-year-old woman was treated as something less than human for most of her childhood. When she was approved for physician-assisted suicide, she was treated as less than human then, too.

PTSD Is NOT Incurable

In an op-ed for TIME online, Joan Cook, a trauma psychiatrist, says that “No provider anywhere should ever tell a trauma survivor that their condition is incurable.” She points out that treatment can be hard and it can take a long time, but it is not incurable.

In a Huffington Post article by Jenni Schaefer, author and survivor of sexual abuse, she attests that she was not competent to make a rational and informed decision about physician-assisted suicide while in the throes of her mental illness. The feelings of hopelessness, she says, are part of the illness.

In The Netherlands, one of the criteria for approval for physician-assisted suicide is that the patient must be competent to make the decision. How can she be both rational and competent and have an “incurable” mental illness?

Jenni’s mentor and PTSD expert, Dr. Tim Brewton, said that it is the obligation of the therapist to instill hope. He says that from a clinical perspective,

I do not believe in ever giving up on an individual’s potential for recovery. In fact, I think it is the duty of a doctor or therapist to instill hope of improvement, particularly in a young person. One very important lesson that I have learned over the years is that I can never predict who will improve and who will not. I have been proven wrong too many times, and we cannot see the future. It is better to be present in the moment with patients and to do one’s best to help them sit with their discomfort and move forward in all ways possible.

Shame consumes a person until the person is completely gone. Welch points out that the deep logic of anorexia, which the woman suffered from, is that the person feels unworthy and deserves nothing, so she gives herself nothing and perhaps she can just disappear (Welch, 28). This woman felt unworthy of life and the Dutch Euthanasia Commission agreed with her.

Autonomy and Compassion

Sexual crimes violate the person, not only physically, but also mentally. It is the ultimate expression of treating another as an inhuman piece of meat, a means to an end. If the victim survives the attack, she is not free; she is in mental bondage. Her autonomy has been stripped from her. Killing her is not honoring her freedom to choose when and how she will die. It is honoring the perpetrator’s original intent, which is to consume and discard.

Our enlightened and progressive culture has a habit of “solving” the problem by getting rid of the person, whether it is the unborn, the disabled, or the mentally ill. The problem of suffering is solved by eliminating the sufferer. This is sanitized by calling it “compassionate” and justified by invoking autonomy. If Western countries, like The Netherlands, really do value freedom and autonomy, then true freedom means helping the victim out of her mental bondage by showing her the love and dignity that she doesn’t think she deserves.

Note: After writing this post, I came across this column by Clare Allen in The Guardian, (“The label ‘incurable’ is not a justification for ending a life”). In it, she makes several observations about mental illness and euthanasia including a point that should be more obvious than it apparently is: “It seems to me that anyone who has lived through 10 years of sexual abuse may benefit more from being listened to than labelled.”

Where Do Babies Come From? Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells…Sort of

Recent headlines tout that it may be possible for same-sex couples to have biological children thanks to stem cell technology. Using skin stem cells, scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Weismann Institute found that it is possible to make primordial germ cells, the cells that eventually form into egg and sperm (gametes), from induced pluripotent stem cells created from a donor’s skin.

The opportunity for same-sex couples to have biological children may take over the headlines, but it is not the only, or necessarily the primary reason, scientists are interested in this research. One thing scientists hope to do is to use this technique to study age-related diseases. As we go through our lives, we accumulate epigenetic messages that tell genes when to turn on or off, when to make more cells, or when to stop making cells. Recent research shows that certain cancers and age-related diseases are likely due to these epigenetic factors going awry. These epigenetic factors are “reset” in germ cells, meaning scientists can start over and see how these factors develop at the cellular level. There is still much research that needs to be done in this area, including questions as to which epigenetic factors are passed on and which ones are actually reset in germ cells (See Nature’s recent issue on the results of the NIH’s Roadmap Epigenetics Project here).

While the epigenetic research is interesting, the headlines emphasize the reproductive possibilities. This technique could be another option for infertile couples who want to have biological children, including same-sex couples who want children that are biologically related to both of them. However, what is not touted as loudly is that, for now, the technology only works for male same-sex couples.

The why this technique can be used for two men but not two women has to do with how the cells are made. Primordial germ cells are made from skin cells are taken from each person to be converted into induced pluripotent stem cells. Those stem cells are then converted into primordial germ cells by turning on or off certain genetic factors involved in converting pluripotent stem cells to particular cell types.

Female cells have XX chromosomes and male cells have XY chromosomes, but in order to make primordial germ cells that are precursors to sperm, researchers need a Y chromosome. Lead researcher, Dr. Hannah pointed out, that it is easier to take away a chromosome than to insert one. Women don’t have any Y chromosomes to contribute, meaning that making primordial germ cells from women “is a long way off.”

Finally, one of the more troubling factors in this research is that little has been said about the health and well-being of the children that would be produced from this technique. A key point in the original research article in Cell is that SOX17 is a key factor in the process of making primordial germ cells and likely plays an important role in gene regulation. This was surprising to scientists because SOX17 does not play a key role in mouse development. This means that even though mice have been used in prior studies on creating primordial germ cells, they may not be a good model system for creating the subsequent sperm and egg cells. Often before a procedure or a drug makes it to human trials, it is first tested in mice and then in primates. When it comes to human development, though, things do not translate from animal models to human models as easily.

Once scientists are able to take the primordial cells and advance them to egg and sperm cells, they will be able to create an embryo. However, because the mouse models are different, this is a case in which we have no way of knowing whether these embryos or the children will be healthy until the experiment is actually done.

It is unclear from the interviews or the article if the assumption is that “unhealthy” embryos will die off before they implant in the uterus or how exactly researchers are expecting to test whether this technique work as another reproductive technology. If unhealthy embryos die, this poses an ethical problem for those that assume embryos should be granted dignity in their own right. But even if one does not accept that embryos are accorded a certain level of dignity, what about babies and children? What do scientists plan to do if the children born from this procedure are unhealthy or deformed?

Finally, it is worth mentioning that this technique would provide a source of eggs, which are needed for various other reproductive techniques and research endeavors. For example, The UK just passed legislation permitting what has been dubbed “three-parent IVF” in which scientists transfer the nucleus from one woman’s egg to another woman’s enucleated egg that will then be used in IVF. The hope is to prevent mitochondrial disease which is genetically passed down to offspring from the mother. Obtaining skin cells from a donor is much less invasive and poses less of a risk to the donor than obtaining her eggs after inducing hyperovulation.

This research is rife with ethical concerns, most notably the fact that it amounts to human experimentation on people who did not have the opportunity to choose to be the product of experimentation, but must live with the consequences, if they live at all.

Is It Cheating or Discrimination?

Dutee Chand (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Sprinter Dutee Chand has been banned from competing in track-and-field because her body produces abnormally high levels of testosterone as reported in The New York Times. Chand is India’s 100-meter, under 18 champion and was an Olympic hopeful, but after an official or a competitor at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in June requested that Chand be tested for hyperandrogenism, she was pulled from the sport. Chand had won two gold medals at the event.

It was found that Chand has a condition which causes her body to produce more testosterone than what is considered the normal range for women. Chand’s case is not unique. Recent studies have shown that hyperandrogenism may be overrepresented among female athletes compared to the general population. Four female athletes were pulled from the 2012 London Olympics and taken to France for testing. All of them, like Chand, came from rural regions of developing countries. The London athletes were told to undergo surgery if they wanted to compete. The International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.) deemed that Chand cannot compete unless she takes hormone suppressing drugs or has surgery. Chand is contesting this stating that she should not have to change her body.

From a bioethics standpoint, there are several issues that are cause for concern regarding Chand’s case: 1) It is one thing to ban performance enhancers. It is another to require performance “diminishers” to change someone’s natural abilities. 2) Elite athletes are, by definition, not within the range of normal. Why are some genetic abnormalities allowed, but others are not? 3) What is the purpose of sport if it is not to celebrate God-given abilities coupled with training and hard work?

Chand has always considered herself a female and for all intents and purposes is female, but her body produces more testosterone than most females do. Her diagnosis of hyperandrogenism does not necessarily mean that she had an additional Y chromosome, as in Klinefelter syndrome, or a segment of a Y chromosome attached to one of her X chromosomes, as in De la Chappelle syndrome. It just means that her body produces significantly more testosterone. Furthermore, while synthetic testosterone, often taken for doping, confers an unnatural athletic advantage, the science on how naturally produced testosterone caused by hyperandrogenism and some of these other syndromes is still unknown. David Epstein, in his book The Sports Gene, cites Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez-Patino as an example of this. She had De la Chappelle syndrome so her body was producing male levels of testosterone. However, she developed fully female because her body also had androgen insensitivity, which means her body does not respond to testosterone. Hormones, like testosterone, are chemical signals, and in people with androgen insensitivity, their body does not seem to read the signal. Her success as a hurdler, Epstein argues, is likely due to something else.

Epstein spoke with two endocrinologists who believe that androgen insensitivity is likely overrepresented in both sports and modeling. Even though their bodies do not respond to testosterone, they do seem to exhibit certain physical features. In women with high testosterone but androgen insensitivity, their arms and legs tend to be longer than the average female, and they tend to be a couple of inches taller than average female height. Because they do not respond to testosterone, they are feminine, but this added height and limb length can be an athletic advantage in certain sports.

Epstein interviewed Jeff Brown, an endocrinologist who works with top athletes in the U.S., several of whom are Olympic gold medalists. Dr. Brown reports that several of his female athletes have partial 21-hydroxylase deficiency, which is genetically passed down from the parents, and can cause an overproduction of testosterone. Women with low-level 21-hydroxylase deficiency develop normal ovaries and uterus, but their bodies produce more testosterone. How that testosterone is read by the body is still unclear. As a note, men can have 21-hydroxylase deficiency, but its effects are less dramatic.

Interestingly Dr. Brown points out that the endocrine system of elite athletes, in general, differs noticeably from those of most adults. He points out that there are many things about the bodies of elite athletes that are different from most people. This brings up the second issue with Chand’s case. By definition, elite athletes are rare. Once we start talking about the upper echelons of athletic performance, it is often the rare combination of genetics, work ethic, and opportunity that allows an athlete to become elite.

Consider the example of arm span in the NBA. It is a given that a six-foot male is considered “short” in the NBA. In general, most NBA players are taller than average. But being over six-feet tall is not as rare as having an arm span that is longer than height. This rare trait is overrepresented in the NBA. Normal adults have an arm span that is roughly equivalent to their height. In the NBA, most players have an arm span that is significantly longer than their height. For example, Kevin Durant is 6’9” but has a reported wingspan of 7’4”. LeBron James is 6’7.25” with a wingspan of 7’0.25”. Michael Jordan is 6’6” with a reported wingspan of 6’11.5” (Statistics are from and Longer arm span means that these athletes actually have a taller effective height.

Pertinent to the topic, NBA players are not asked to do something about their arm span in order to compete in the Olympics or play competitive, professional basketball. One possible exception is Baylor University’s Isaiah Austin. His basketball career was cut short when pre-draft testing found that he had Marfan syndrome, deeming him ineligible to play basketball competitively. One of the symptoms of Marfan syndrome is tallness and an elongation of arms and fingers due to weak connective tissues in the joints. It also gave Austin a longer wingspan than height, likely giving him an advantage on the court. However, the difference between Austin’s case and Chand’s is that the effects of Marfan syndrome are well-known. Marfan syndrome can endanger an athlete because it affects the heart, eyes, circulatory system, and the skeletal structure. Austin was told that he had an enlarged heart and extreme physical exertion could kill him. Chand’s condition does not pose a known health risk.

The NBA is only one example. Genetic aberrations are seen in many other sports, yet these people are not asked to undergo chemical or surgical alterations to conform to certain notions of “normal.” Indeed, in the case of using performance enhancing drugs, which are illegal, the point is to synthetically procure what one was not given naturally. The point is to become “like” someone who is rare so that you can win.

Finally, Chand’s case brings up a larger philosophical question of the purpose of sport. Pierre Coubertin, who was instrumental in re-inventing the modern Olympic movement, considered athletic training part of the cultivation of virtues. He takes a post-Enlightenment, humanist perspective that stems from the pre-modern Judeo-Christian idea that all people are of equal moral worth, although not all are of equal capability. For Coubertin, the point was not winning-at-all-costs, but becoming a better person through discipline, integrity, self-control, hard work, and perseverance. However, given equal training and opportunity, if one athlete has bad knees and the other does not, then the one with better knees will prevail. Coubertin’s perspective would have little to say about an athlete like Chand. Presumably, the emphasis would be on whether she was cultivating a virtuous character.

For some, sport is about showing off technological prowess, which is often tied to a sense of nationalism when played on a global stage. Oftentimes, this view does not see using performance enhancers as a problem because it is considered part of training with the best technology possible. The competition is not just between individual athletes, but between countries. The question isn’t which athlete won the gold, but how many gold medals did a particular country receive. The accumulated successes reflect back on the country’s resources, politics, training, and technological capabilities. From this perspective, it is in the competing countries’ interest to make sure that the competitors are homogenous. This would mean that an athlete like Chand would be excluded because she does not fall within the “norm” and therefore provides one country with an unfair advantage over another.

Finally, another perspective is that sport is about admiring individual differences and God-given abilities. From this perspective, demanding that an athlete chemically or surgically “normalize” herself would constitute cheating because she would be altering herself from how she was born in a way that is meant to change her athletic performance. Incidentally, using performance enhancing drugs would also be unethical for the same reasons, but rather than attempting to normalize the athlete, those that use PEDs are intentionally trying to make themselves above the norm. This perspective would include Chand in world-class competition. Whether she should compete with men or women is another debate, perhaps one that calls into question some notions of gender segregation in sports.

Sports is an age-old social sphere that, in many ways, reflects something about our cultural values. Chand’s body is not within the “norm,” but most elite-level, world-class athletes are not, in one way or another, within the norm either. It is unfortunate that rather than celebrating her distinctive qualities and abilities as a sprinter, she is treated as less-than-adequate for physical qualities that are not under her control. Furthermore, one has to wonder why Chand’s particular physical qualities are considered something to be “fixed” rather than a gift to be celebrated.

Should the State be Involved in Marriage?

In my various writings on the topic of same-sex ‘marriage’ (for a complete list, click here) I have argued that government has a duty to recognize marriage as being between a man and a woman. But perhaps the state should get out of the marriage business completely. Perhaps the state should not be involved at all in publicly recognizing certain types of relationships as being marriage. This is the position taken by radical libertarians
and it is an attractive solution to the ‘gay marriage’ debate, even among Christians. According to this line of thinking, once the state begins pronouncing that certain types of relationships are marriage, this itself shows that government has overstepped its God-appointed mark.

In a Christian Voice article , ‘Why Gay Marriage is a Public Threat Part 2‘, I addressed this position. “If it were true that the state has no business recognizing certain types of relationships as being marriage, then how far do we extend that?” I asked. For example, is it wrong for the government of a nation to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage, but okay for the government of the state or shire or county to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage?

Let’s try to be completely consistent with the libertarian position and say that it is wrong for government to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage all the way
down to the level of village government. That would mean if there was a small tribe of a thousand people in the jungle of South America, that it be wrong for them to have formal or informal mechanisms in place for recognizing who was married and for then using those mechanisms to generate the presumption of paternity or to settle disputes about
inheritance or other matters. Few libertarians would want to go that far, and yet it is hard to see how that example is qualitatively different to the situation today, where the people of the community have certain formal mechanisms in place for identifying a legal marriage. Whether one does this through the large-scale community of the state or a small-scale community of the village or tribe, it is in principle the same thing, namely, formal some type of formal way to recognize the difference between being married and being not married.

Whenever you have a community that has formal or informal mechanisms in place for recognizing a marriage, then questions of what can count as marriage will arise and have to be settled by the community. Whether that community is represented by the gathering of local chiefs, or whether there is a de facto tradition of common law that is appealed to, or whether there is the apparatus of the modern state, the basic principle is the same: the civil community has mechanisms in place for recognizing what is and is not a marriage.
But let’s suppose this wasn’t the case and the radical libertarians have a point: we should abolish civil marriage completely. In their book What is Marriage?, Girgis, Anderson and George suggest some of the consequences that would arise if such a state of affairs were realized:


Sherif Girgis, Robert George and Ryan Anderson, authors of the book What is Marriage?

Abolishing civil marriage is practically impossible. Strike the word ‘marriage’ from the law, and the state will still license, and attach duties and benefits to, certain bonds [benefits such as the presumption of paternity]. Abolish these forward-looking forms of regulation, and they will only be replaced by messier, retroactive regulation – of disputes over property, custody, visitation, and child support. What the state once did by efficient legal presumptions, it will then do by burdensome case-by-case assignments of parental (especially paternal) responsibilities.

“The state will only discharge these tasks more or less efficiently–that is, less or more intrusively. It can’t escape them. Why not? Because the public functions of marriage–both to require and to empower parents (especially fathers) to care for their children and each other–require society-wide coordination. It is not enough if, say, a particular religion presumes a man’s paternity of his wife’s children, or recognizes his fights and duties toward their mother; or if the man and his wife contract to carry out certain tasks. For private institutions can bind only their own; private contracts bind only those who are party to them. A major function of marriage law is to bind all third parties (schools, adoption agencies, summer camps, hospitals; friends, relatives, and strangers) presumptively to treat a man as father of his wife’s children, husbands and wives as entitled to certain privileges and sexually off-limits, and so on. This only the state can do with any consistency.

But more than inevitable or necessary, it is fitting that the state should do this. Consider a comparison. Why don’t even the strictest libertarians decry traffic laws? First, the orderly traffic protects health and promotes efficiency, two great goods. Second, these goods are common in two senses; private efforts cannot adequately secure them, and yet failure to secure them has very public consequences. It is not as if we would have had the same (or even just slightly less) safety and efficiency of travel if people just did as they pleased, some stopping only at red lights and others only at green. Nor would damage from the resulting accidents (and slower shipments, etc) be limited to those responsible for causing it. To ensure safe and efficient travel at all, and to limit harm to third parties, we need legal coordination. Indeed, it is no stretch to say that the state owes its citizens to keep minimum security and order: to these we have a right. Finally, unlike private associations, the state can secure these goods, without intolerable side effects. Al this makes it appropriate for the state to set our traffic laws….

If something would serve an important good, if people ha a right to it, if private groups cannot secure it well, everyone suffers if it is lost, and the state can secure it without undue cost, then the state may step in–and should.


Girls and Guys, Getting [It] Together; Some Observations on Double Standards

(Surprise, surprise, Intern 2 has a bone to pick with cultural attitudes on sexuality and the sexes)

Recently my friend Barnabas mentioned that another (male) acquaintance of ours had once written a story whose implausible content “revealed his virginity.” The tone was not complimentary.

Due to the setting we were in, I chose not to mention that I too was wrestling with a scene in my own work-in-progress, one key to the characters’ emotional trajectory, that suffered from my lack of firsthand experience. But if I had, I know my friend would have vocally distinguished my situation from our classmate’s. There were other reasons (my actual presence, for one) that my lack of experience could be denoted the more respectable, but I’ve long suspected that chief among them would be the fact that I was a girl.

Say what we will about the pervasively decadent quality of popular and academic culture, but the secular world is still remarkably kind to female virgins. We have our detractors, (Jessica Valenti comes first to my mind), but they are generally not disdainers. It is frequently argued that women are harmed or restricted by abstinence, but not that there’s something innately wrong with a woman who abstains. The prevailing mindset does not suggest that a woman who has not engaged in sexual conduct is any less of a woman for it. (If your evidence or experience says otherwise, by all means post a link/tell us your story, and join the conversation.)

This is not the case for abstinent men, and men and women alike bear the responsibility to face the injustice.

Surely it is a point of agreement for all reasonable people that men’s promiscuity ought not to be excused and even praised while the same behavior is denigrated in women. I do not believe that this, which many feminists hold as the capital-D-S Double Standard (see also; “Stud/Slut Dichotomy”), is nearly so prevalent now as it was many decades ago, but this new double standard that excuses women’s virginity while denigrating men’s (we can call it the “Nice Girl/Nice Guy Dichotomy”) seems to have sprouted from the same root. The difference might have come with the shift of mainstream sexual mores. As pre-marital abstinence, rather than sexual activity, becomes the frowned-upon behavior, so do men, rather than women, become the chiefly frowned-upon participants.

This is not progressive thinking. This merely inverts our old thinking. The new double standard operates from the same false premises as the old. It still presupposes that men are passive victims to their all-consuming sexual desires (so, if a man has not had sex by a certain age, he must be either completely undesirable to women or otherwise suspect in his manliness). It still presupposes that women do not struggle with sexual desire at all, or only to a degree that is easily controlled (so, if a woman has not had sex by a certain age, that is an understandable decision on her part.) Just like the old double standard, this discredits both men’s and women’s capacity for strength in virtue.

It may be easier in this cultural climate for me, as a woman, to openly discuss my moral choices than it is for my male friends and counterparts. But I propose that even so, in such contexts that are appropriate and in such terms that are constructive, we all put these choices into open discussion. We, men and women together, bolstering the required courage, should calmly explain ourselves and defend each other.

Had it come to that, I could have reminded Barnabas, who does know better, that being male or female was not really a relevant factor in the conversation about twenty-something virgins trying to write what they don’t know. He would have listened. So would many others.

As we strive together toward the same fixed and unchanging standards, let us be confident, assured, and transparent* in our striving. Let us strive together so that others may see and understand, and may begin to strive alongside us.

I remain, sincerely yours,
Intern 2

*But tactful, and not obnoxious or boastful. Discretion, valor, better part, etc.

‘Choice’ Writ Large

The Genocide Awareness Project

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform
On a couple of sunny fall days last September, in the very week hundreds of pseudo-courageous ‘occupiers’ were gearing up to protest a mishmash of ill-defined quasi-injustices having something to do with banking, a small cadre of genuinely courageous young people placed their convictions and reputations on the line to expose a real injustice having to do with life and death. The Students Choosing Life (SCL) of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) hosted the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP). By the end of the week, according to Larissa R. Hofstra, president of SCL, “the entire campus was talking about abortion,”

That was the intention. GAP is the college campus outreach of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), a California based ministry dedicated to establishing “prenatal justice and the right to life for the unborn.” CBR pursues that mission primarily through displays of arresting photos showing the grim reality of abortion – blood, body parts, and all. According to its website, “CBR operates on the principle that abortion represents an evil so inexpressible that words fail us when attempting to describe its horror. Until abortion is seen, it will never be understood.”

Principles of Successful Reform
CBR was founded in 1990 by Gregg Cunningham. A decorated Vietnam War veteran and a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and political appointee of Ronald Reagan, Gregg was at that time a Special Attorney with the U.S. Federal Courts in Los Angeles. He had been active in the pro-life movement, both as a legislator and as a volunteer, but he had begun to sense a need for another strategy. As he studied social reform movements of the past, he discerned common principles that successful reformers had put into practice and that he believed could be more effectively put to work for the pro-life cause.

Specifically, public attention had to be focused on “the humanity of the victim and the inhumanity of the injustice.” Furthermore, given the human propensity to avoid all things difficult, these two realities had to be presented in a way that would be impossible to ignore. Dr. Martin Luther King, for example, had forced the nation to look at racism in the South through staged activities such as lunch counter sit-ins and freedom bus rides. The subsequent media coverage of white-on-black violence shamed decent Americans who had been either unaware of, or content to remain comfortably ignorant about, race-based segregation. The publicity became a catalyst for an eventual sea change in attitudes toward legislated civil rights protection for blacks.

If segregated lunch counters were unacceptable to decent Americans, how much more intolerable would be the wholesale bloodshed of abortion, once it was brought out into the open? Gregg knew that many people would not look favorably upon abortion imagery in public, but he wasn’t concerned with what they thought about him. He cared what they thought about abortion. So he resigned from his post as U.S. Attorney and started the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform with himself, an idea, and a notepad.

Alternative Forms of Mass Media
The first order of business was the acquisition of high-quality pictures, both the marvelous prenatal imagery of babies in the womb and the damnable pictures of babies killed by abortion. But Gregg and his colaborers faced one hurdle that the civil rights activists didn’t – an unsympathetic, if not hostile, media. To draw public attention to the humanity of the victims and the inhumanity of abortion, they would have to take the pictures to the public themselves. Toward that end, CBR constructed a variety of portable, photo-mural exhibits.

  • GAP, launched in 1998, sets large pictures of historically recognized forms of genocide, such as lynchings and Nazi death camps, beside pictures of the unrecognized genocide of abortion.
  • The Reproductive Choice Campaign (RCC), also called the Highway and Byway Project, superimposes the abortion euphemism ‘CHOICE’ over supersized images showing the bloody remains of the tiny victims of ‘CHOICE.’ It began with billboards, signs, and billboard trucks in 2001. A year later, planes towing 50’x100’ aerial signs were added.
  • The Obama Awareness Campaign (OAC) juxtaposes pictures of Barack Obama and some of his otherwise laudable quotations with pictures of the grotesque products of his relentless abortion policy. It was officially launched in May, 2009, when CBR trucks and planes swarmed South Bend, IN, home to the University of Notre Dame, where the president delivered the 2009 commencement address and received an honorary law degree.
  • The Corporate Accountability Project (CAP) began in May 2011 when letters were mailed to fifty companies that sponsor Planned Parenthood. The letters informed company executives about the work of the abortion giant and notified them that unless they redirected their “philanthropic” giving, they risked becoming the object of a picket. “If businesses support abortion, they get us, and they don’t want us,” said Fletcher Armstrong of CBR. The stately St. Regis Monarch Beach Hotel in Dana Point, CA, became CAP’s inaugural target in August, 2011.
  • The School Choice Project attempts to educate high schoolers about abortion through volunteers who distribute literature as trucks circle campus near dismissal time.

CBR also conducts a Church Outreach, called the Matthew 28:20 Project, and publishes educational literature and conducts seminars to establish the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion. Today CBR possesses the largest storehouse of broadcast quality video and high quality print photos of abortion in the world and shares it freely with any individual or organization observing its one requirement – to explicitly condemn all abortion-related violence as CBR does.

Precipitating the Crisis: A Necessary Mercy
CBR does not engage in civil disobedience. All projects are scrupulously legal. Staffers and volunteers do, however, get a wide variety of reactions, as the photos are so disturbing, coming to terms with them is extremely difficult. But this is a necessary mercy, as Gregg explains. “Difficult change seldom occurs in the absence of a crisis which compels that change. Abortion photos, displayed strategically, create such a crisis for many viewers. That crisis can be moral, spiritual, political, or commercial. Abortions photos are disruptive and without disrupting business as usual, abortion will remain forever off the nation’s agenda, hidden under a rug of ignorance and indifference.”

CBR aims to throw off that rug – not to inflict pain, but to effect change. “It is human nature to evade responsibility for ending dysfunctional behavior until a crisis makes that responsibility unavoidable. But many people resort to every imaginable stratagem for defusing the crisis instead of facing the problem from which the crisis derives. This flaw in human nature is killing today’s children.”

Stopping the Killing
Stopping the killing is the goal. “Who’s really suffering and being harmed, and who we should really be praying for and thinking about is these children,” said Don Cooper, who left his job as an electrical engineer in 2004 to become CBR’s Operations Manager. “At CBR, we’re being used by God, we hope, [to make the public] more aware of the children that are dying, that we could be saving.”

It was effective at UTC. “These pictures are changing the way I look at this,” a professor said after visiting the GAP exhibit.

“It’s crazy,” a female student said. “This should never be.”

Exactly. This should never be.

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