NOTIONS: Government intervention from cradle to grave

October 17, 2005

My mother always said that if aliens arrived from outer space to study life in America, they'd never be able to figure us out. Had I listened to my mother (instead of arguing partisan politics with her), I might have been better prepared for last week's visit from my friend, E.T. E.T. arrived all agog after intercepting some of my inbound e-mails in cyberspace. "I'm totally confused," E.T. said. "So am I," I said, "but that's normal. You, on the other hand, are supposed to benefit from higher-level intellect. What's troubling that oversized brain of yours?" "Your outlook on life and death," said E.T. "Oh, no," I said, "I'm not going to have to write another grief column, am I?" "No, no," said E.T. "You don't understand. I speak not of your personal anxiety over life and death, but of your government's." "My government's?" I said, "What's government got to do with life and death?" "My question, precisely," said E.T. "Now I'm confused," I said. "Why don't you begin at the beginning?"

"Well," said E.T. "Take this e-mail from last Tuesday. It says your 'state senator'-is that some form of leader?"

"It means lawmaker," I said.

"It says this lawmaker leader named Patricia Miller wants your government to determine which females of your species may produce offspring through artificial means and which may not," E.T. said.

"Yes," I said, "She wanted only married women to benefit from physician-assisted procreation."

"Why?" said E.T. "Isn't that what you call discrimination?"

"Yes," I said. "But some people aren't comfortable with unmarried humans-especially homosexual humans-raising children."

"Why?" E.T. asked "I've monitored emails to you from homosexual males who are parents, lesbian females who are parents and unmarried women who are parents. Like your heterosexual compatriots, they upload images of their offspring and boast of their accomplishments in that place you call school and that game you call soccer."

"Yes," I said. "But some people still can't accept any model but traditional marriage between a man and a woman."

"Are there not married humans who breed successfully, but fare poorly as parents?" E.T. asked. "Don't get me started," I said. "Let me ask this," said E.T. "Suppose one of your undesirables breaks this law and becomes pregnant. If your government finds out, would your lawmaker leaders terminate the pregnancy?" "No," I said. "That would be abortion." "And that's not legal?" asked E.T. "It's legal," I said. "But many of our leaders are opposed to the practice and the government won't pay for it." "But if the offending party paid for it, surely you could use the fetal tissue for research to save other humans." "That would be stem-cell research," I said. "Our ultimate leader has restricted that, too." "Now, I'm more confused than ever," said E.T. "Your single females violate the law if they procreate. They can't redeem themselves through abortion. And they can't help others by donating the tissue." "It was a bad idea," I said. "That's why it lasted less than a week." "So there's no law barring physicianassisted procreation," said E.T. "But there are laws prohibiting physician-assisted death." "Yes," I said, "except in Oregon." "What's that?" E.T. asked "A state," I said. "In that part of our country, physicians may help terminally ill humans who want to end their lives painlessly." "But if yours is a free country, why can't citizens everywhere make that choice?" E.T. asked. "The law says you must stay alive as long as you can, even if you don't want to," I said. "And if you're about to die anyway, and you want to do it on your own terms, any doctor who helps risks a murder charge." "Everywhere but Oregon," E.T. said. "Everywhere but Oregon," I said. "And your ultimate leader wants to outlaw the practice there?" said E.T. "He does," I said. "He's taken it all the way to our Supreme Court." "So let me get this straight," E.T. said. "Some of your leaders want to pass laws that restrict the birth of healthy humans." "Yes." "And some of your other leaders want to ensure that dying humans suffer prolonged and painful deaths." "I think you've got it," I said. "I'm really glad I don't live here," said E.T. "Some days, I wish I didn't either," I said.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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