Edge of precipice
• Language is all important in the current debate about abortion. Subtle changes in the use of terms can gradually help to bring about and even justify ways of looking at ethical issues that previously were not acceptable.
A famous example of this comes from an editorial in the September issue of 'California Medicine', 1970, which referred to changing attitudes to abortion in western society. It refers, in the following excerpt, to the need for a linguistic strategy if abortion was to gain acceptance.
"Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced, it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent.
"The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous, whether intra- or extra-uterine, until death.
"The very considerable semantic gymnastics that are required to rationalise abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices."
It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.
This is a stark reminder to all of us not to allow slippage in our use of language, which could entail radically transforming our society and the state to facilitate the taking of life in an unjustifiable manner.
We can see how far the US has moved down that road of destruction since that editorial of 1970.
We are on the edge of that precipice just now.
Tirellan Heights, Galway