Thoughts on the Reaction to Bush’s Memoirs

Before I say anything else, let me make clear that I haven’t read the book, or even seen the interview. All that I know comes from reading news articles about the book, or articles about the interview about the book.  Katherine Jean Lopez pulls a few key passages, and it suggests that the book will be an interesting read, if nothing else. 

I can’t speak to the book: I can speak, however, to the reaction that the book is getting.  Two things I’ve noticed:

(1) On the Unborn:

Bush talks in the book about seeing his little brother or sister in a jar after his mom miscarried – she was taking the remains to the hospital, in accordance with medical protocol.   ABC gathered some reactions, and I was shocked at how universally people treated the dead child as a dead child:

  • “It’s just the sight of blood and human tissue that is hard for people to see,” said Sandy Robertson, a 52-year-old Colorado professor who had six miscarriages. “Then you’re dealing with the death of a baby on top of it.
  • A more level-headed online commenter opined, “While quite creepy and something I would never do, I have to remind myself that people respond to death and loss in their own way and in their own time, and I try not to judge. Is this any weirder than having your loved one cremated and keeping a box filled with their charred flesh on your mantle?”
  • Dr. Tracy W. Gaudet, an obstetrician and executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina, said when her mother miscarried her twin, she, too, took the remains to the hospital, just as the Bushes did.
  • “If you can bring anything passed it allows us to first know if everything has passed or not, and secondly it allows us to send the fetus for genetic testing if indicated,” said Gaudet. “I do think culturally we were closer to life and death. My dad grew up on a farm for example, and these matters were more fundamentally understood.”
  • “Some choose to hold the baby and are often encouraged to,” said Helen Coons, a clinical psychologist at Philadelphia’s Women’s Mental Health Associates. “We see some who would like photos and footprints. Others decline.”

Compare that with the official medical language quoted in the article: “If you have heavy bleeding and think you have passed fetal tissue, place it in a clean container and take it to the doctor for inspection. Your doctor will want to examine you.” – American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  They also quote a woman who “said a physician’s assistant once told her to save the ‘products of conception,’ after they knew the pregnancy wasn’t viable but had not expelled yet. ‘I thought that was very strange,’ she said.”

To me, at least, this suggests that we recognize on a gut level, at least in the context of miscarriage, that parents have lost a son or daughter, that kids have lost a younger brother or sister, and so on.  Not “missed out on a potential brother or sister,” but lost one that they actually had.  The ABC article even describes as a “miscarriage” the Santorium’s son Gabriel, who died an hour after premature birth.  Medical language which seeks to obscure this fact does so by using intentionally-vague language.

This recognition may be a huge boon in convincing people that abortion is wrong, but I have a lingering fear that it’ll work in the other direction as well: that people who have convinced themselves that a fetus isn’t a person will increasingly find that a baby who dies an hour after birth is nothing more than a dead fetus, beneath humanity.  The infamous Peter Singer is already proof of this phenomenon.

(2) On Waterboarding:

Pat Archibold makes an astute observation, while sidestepping a messy debate:

When asked whether water-boarding was torture President Bush answered “My lawyers said no.  The lawyers said it was legal.”
The lawyers?  It was legal?
I believe that George W. Bush wanted nothing more than to protect this country, but I believe he lied to himself to do it.  President Bush knows full well that there are plenty of things that are legal in this country that are intrinsically immoral.  Abortion comes to mind.

Pat then notes that Bush’s defense was that we only waterboarded three people (although we waterboarded them numerous times), and remarks: “You don’t say that unless you know its wrong.  If you think a legal opinion gives you moral carte blanche, then why not water-board them all?

I think that this is an important step for the debate on waterboarding to go.  Those in charge of making the decision knew this was wrong, and they tried to limit its use to when they felt they really had to.  Even if it doesn’t rise to the legal definition of torture, that question becomes almost irrelevant: they knew this was wrong, and did it anyways – perhaps out of desperation, perhaps with great motives, but they did something they believed was evil anyways.  Beyond this, Pat’s abortion parallel is right on: Bush, by his own admission, wanted waterboarding to be safe, legal, and rare.

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