Daily Archives: March 2, 2013

Making Peace With Rockets

Re-post from Baghdad during Charge of the Knights, when the Green Zone was shelled ~8-10 times a day for six weeks…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When the alarms go off, you throw yourself on the floor of your hooch, squirm into your body armor and helmet and under your bed, and there are moments, true life-changing moments, where you are forced to confront your fear. Your mortality and the absolute randomness that decides whether you end or continue is brought into striking focus, and you realize how truly out of control we are. Life or death no longer depends on your volition, but on the aim of some person miles away, the manufacture of a weapon from another country, the local barometric pressure, political maneuvering, gusts of wind. And so it always has been, and so it always will be.

The fear you have to confront, for if you hide from it, the fear finds you in your dreams. If you try to reason around it, fear runs your neuroses. Or worst of all, you try to think you can control it through superstitional wearing of lucky socks or amulets. Or by plugging your ears or not holding your breath so as to save your lungs from blast damage. Then you begin to lose touch with the reality, which is, there is no control. All that was and all that ever will be is, ultimately, mostly out of your hands. Control is an illusion, and all we have, all the world has, are a series of choices that combine to lead us here, or there. Your choices are few among trillions.

And so, lying facedown on the floor, panting in the dust from the adrenalin coursing through your system and the 30 pound of armor plate on your back, explosions in the distance like a pack of giants throwing stones, you confront your fear…and find peace on the other side. Peace is acceptance of the fact that one day you are going to die, and they will throw dirt on your face and you will be no more. Peace is acceptance that, if this is the will of the universe, then that is the only way it could ever be. In that peace is acceptance of risk, of life, of rockets and of death, and a dismissal of worry which is, ultimately, probably the most dangerous enemy we face in the international zone.

You find peace in the fear. You accept it, and you move on. The all clear sounds, you rise and remove your body armor, propping it up for the next time you hit the deck. You go in the other room, brush your teeth and go to bed. And you sleep, soundly and deeply, until the next alarm challenges you with fear anew.

This might sound shocking, but in fact, this is everyday life, brought into laserlike focus. We’re just so often ignorant of risk…we learn to dismiss it, accept it or worry it.  In our safe little existences we don’t have the imminent risk of violent death, or at least we think we don’t, so we learn to worry about other things… are there toxins in my water bottle that are going to kill me in 40 years? Am I getting too little iron? Maybe too much? Do I have too little hair on my head? Too much on my back? Am I a boring conversationalist? Am I too old? Is my butt too big? Are my breasts too small? Am I eating too many eggs? Or maybe too few?

These are the things we think about because basic survival is no longer an issue. So we replace it with other, seemingly life or death choices. Fear is everywhere, and it finds us one way or another. You can’t control that. The only thing you can do is choose how to deal with it…face it, or hide. Accept it, or deny the reality that all life is risk, and ultimately, death.

So eat those eggs, but exercise and accept they may still clog your heart. Enjoy your food. Let your kid play barefoot in the grass, even though they might get toxoplasmosis and lose a foot. Play is good for you and sometimes you get hurt. And when you hear the CRAM, hit the deck and squirm into your armor, just know that if it’s your time, it’s your time, and if it’s not, it’s not. Nothing more. And sleep…

A-salam alekum

Peace = سلم

Artificial Wombs Could Outlaw Abortion

Re-post of an old paper from 10 years ago…

In February of 2002, scientists at Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility claimed their first successes in artificial womb research. This technology has been hailed as a breakthrough that could greatly empower childless individuals and couples, allowing them to bear children without the assistance of a surrogate mother. Unwittingly, it could also spell doom for abortion rights in the United States.
Dr. Hung-Ching Liu and her team were able to create the artificial womb by cultivating endometrial cells on an artificial biodegradable scaffolding. Spurred to multiply with heavy doses of growth hormones and estrogen, the cells took the shape of the scaffolding, modeling themselves into an artificial uterus.
Liu then implanted embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization programs. The embryos attached themselves to the walls of the engineered tissue and began to settle in normally. Although the experiments were halted after six days, Liu hopes to replicate the tests for fourteen days, long enough for the embryos to put down roots and veins, and possibly develop a primitive placenta.
Although Liu’s human experiments are limited to two weeks by IVF legislation, she plans to develop this technology using mice and dogs embryos. If successful, she plans to ask permission to extend her human experiments beyond the fourteen day limit.
Liu is not alone in her quest. While she seeks to grow a baby from scratch, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara at Juntendo University in Tokyo wants to assist women who miscarry or have very premature births. His team was successful in removing goat fetuses from the womb and keeping them alive and growing in a tank of amniotic fluid, using artificial umbilical cords to deliver nutrients and deliver waste.
Both scientists are confident that technologies capable of bringing a baby to term outside of the mother will be a reality in a matter of years. In an unforeseen twist, these seemingly empowering technologies will, under current Constitutional law, provide States almost unfettered authority to ban abortion throughout pregnancy.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no recognized Constitutional right to an abortion. In 1973, the Roe court recognized that the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment to the Constitution gave women certain privacy rights with regard to abortions. As delineated in Roe and affirmed in the 1992 Casey decision, prior to fetal viability, a woman has a right to obtain an abortion without undue interference from the state. After viability, the State’s interest in the life of the unborn child permits restrictions or prohibitions on abortion so long as the law contains an ‘escape clause’ where the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy. Currently 40 states restrict or prohibit post-viability abortions.
The Roe Court further defined legal viability as the time where the fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Therein lies the looming conflict. Thanks to rapid advances in the survivability of preemies, viability has crept from 28 weeks at the time of the Roe decision to approximately 20 weeks today. Artificial womb technology, if successful, will catapult viability all the way back to the date of conception and will allow states to restrict or prohibit abortions throughout pregnancy.
There are two possible scenarios for the technology. The first, called the extraction scenario, is the most damaging to a woman’s right to an abortion. In this situation, researchers perfect methods to successfully extract a fetus from the mother, implant it in an artificial womb and raise it to term. Under this scenario, the date of viability outside the womb would be the date of conception. Following a strict reading of Roe, States would gain an unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion from the moment of the first cell division.
More ambiguous is the implantation scenario. Here, physicians are not able to extract a fetus from the womb and transplant it, but are able to successfully grow an embryo into a baby when it is initially implanted in an artificial womb. Thus, the date of viability for an implanted fetus is conception, but the date of viability for a conventional child is still limited by medical science’s ability to care for a premature birth.
How the Supreme Court would decide on the implantation scenario is totally unpredictable and could depend on the political leanings of the Court at the time a decision is handed down. Some scholars argue that the Court would split abortion law into two categories, one for implanted fetuses, which would be protected completely, and one for normal pregnancies, which would be subject to unchanged Roe style pre- and post-viability determinations.
Others believe that the Court, especially a conservatively minded one, would interpret successful implantation as evidence that viability exists at conception. In such a situation, traditional mothers would have no right to an abortion, even though their fetus could not be transplanted to an artificial womb.
Still another more radical view envisions the Supreme Court developing an entirely new treatment for abortion law not predicated on Roe v. Wade. An activist court might follow the suggestion of the plurality in Casey and determine that the right to an abortion is so fundamental to economic and social developments that it must be preserved. But this would require a remarkable deviation from the Constitutional framework of viability that the Court has already committed itself to.
One can only marvel at the ironies that would reveal themselves if (when!) artificial womb technologies become reality. Anti-abortion conservatives, long vilifying Roe and pressing for its abandonment, would suddenly find merit in its viability framework, as it would give states almost unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion. Pro-choice liberals, long claiming abortion rights victory based on the Roe decisions, would find the structure of their very savior encasing them in a constitutional cage of their own making.
The ironies extend beyond constitutional arenas and into social and political spheres. Abortion foes who have fought embryonic research as murder are faced with the prospect that the scientific research they oppose could be their savior. The embryos sacrificed today to perfect this technology may in fact save many times their number later on as artificial wombs enable states to prohibit abortions. And feminists, who might see artificial wombs as a boon to women too busy with their careers to worry about nine months of inconvenient pregnancy, may find that the same liberating technology results in a significant curtailment of their Constitutional right to abortion.
Unintended consequences are the inevitable children of all technological advances. As science delivers this precocious technology to term, the Supreme Court, and the country at large, may find itself wishing it had never met the screaming brat known as the artificial womb.