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Ask Auntie Pinko

December 15, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am having a very hard time clarifying my thinking on the abortion issue. Can you help?

Here's my problem: as a woman, of course I am in total favor of the right to safe, legal abortion. I once accompanied a 15-year-old acquaintance when she aborted her brother's child (and helped her get out of the abusive family situation).

However, I am squeamish about abortion on another level. Of my closest and dearest friends, about half are gay. As medical technology advances, I believe we're not far from isolating the "gay gene," or otherwise developing some scientifically valid way of predicting a tendency on the part of a fetus to develop into a gay child. I also believe, based on my three decades living in the Bible belt, that it would take all of fifteen minutes for the fake Christians to find a way to justify aborting all of those fetuses.

I love my gay friends. The world would be a sadder place without them.

Am I being paranoid, Auntie? Or is this a valid concern? Does it necessitate modifying my staunchly pro-choice stand?

Please help.

Huntsville, AL

Dear Holly,

On one level, I think Auntie can help. Spend a little time doing some research on what genome mappers and genetic researchers are discovering and reporting - it will certainly ease your fears about the mass abortion of "gay" fetuses. Researchers are discovering that the human genome is an enormously complex "program" for creating human beings, with billions of variables, dependent on far more than the combinations of various chromosomes and amino acids! While it may be possible, some day, to identify some genetic factors that appear frequently among gay individuals, the chances of establishing a reliable causative link between one particular gene or chromosome and "gayness" are so remote as to be non-existent.

With the exception of a few rare (and often debilitating or fatal) conditions, there appear to be very few aspects of human health, behavior, or personality that depend on one specific genetic marker. Even in the case of such things as eye and hair color, which we once thought would be a simple matter of finding "a" gene to control, researchers are finding out that it is not nearly that simple. Often combinations of markers for this or that characteristic are broken up over several sites in the DNA sequence, and many markers may have more than one effect or function. Trying to eliminate a marker that controls (for example) a tendency to really bad acne might also interfere with some other ability or characteristic that you wouldn't necessarily want to eliminate.

In other words, like almost everything connected with human beings, genetics is not going to offer simple solutions to complex problems.

This is not to say that some people aren't going to abuse or misuse the knowledge that genetic science produces. We are in for a rough ride as we deal with issues of gender selection, controlling for certain types of disabilities, etc. While there is some level of agreement about the ethical acceptability of aborting a fetus with a condition that is certain to produce profound defects, great pain, and early mortality, there is much less agreement about conditions like Down's, which can produce relatively healthy individuals.

Auntie does find it ironic that the theology which vilifies homosexuality as "sin" seems so bent on ignoring the larger theological implications of the genetic components in human behavior and character. Fortunately, scientists are slowly but steadily documenting the reality that most of the "undesirable" things we attribute to "bad heredity" spring from a complex mixture of nature and nurture. Although genetic selection can "deal a bad hand" to anyone, there is less inevitability to biological destiny than we once thought. The upside to new genetic technology (if we have the wit and compassion to use it) is the ability to identify potential problems that can be alleviated or prevented by the early application of therapy or providing special resources, education, etc., to parents.

However, I certainly cannot guarantee that we will make the compassionate, positive choices in meeting the ethical challenges posed by new genetic technologies. The relentless human urge to simplify complex issues can be a terrible stumbling block. For thoughtful people like you, Holly, this means re-examining your beliefs and what you think you know on a regular basis, and making painful moral choices where there are no clear "right" answers that produce universally positive results. I wish that I (or better yet, someone else!) could provide such answers quickly and easily, but the harsh truth is that in some cases they don't exist, and in a great many cases they only emerge after long testing through experimentation, suffering, and conflict. And even then, they're not always permanent.

Still, the more we examine and discuss such difficult questions, the more progress we make toward perceiving solutions. In that sense, it's worth raising the questions even when there are no answers, so thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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