Bobbi McCaughey of Carlisle, Iowa, may be one of those people able to get very close to the fire and still come away unsinged. Most of us aren't made that way.
For right now, Mrs. McCaughey is justifiably the world's most famous mother. The exhilarating reports of the safe delivery of her seven babies, of the simple and unwavering faith she and her husband have demonstrated through the whole ordeal, of the generous support of their community and especially of their local church-all this was exactly the kind of story we needed to take our attention off Saddam Hussein as the holiday season approached.
Yet none of us should kid ourselves about the ethical and moral tight wire the McCaugheys have walked in recent months. The fact that they seem to have done it so faithfully should not trick us into thinking they have laid a simple pattern that others will now find it easy to repeat.
It is well known that the McCaugheys had employed powerful fertility drugs to increase her chances of pregnancy. But then, having won that round, they faced the same ethical questions that now apparently confront 1,000 or more couples every year in our society: They were looking for a baby-not babies. What to do with the extras?
The whole reason we've come to know the McCaugheys so well in recent days is that they stand out so starkly from the others; they refused to think that way. But most of the other parents-the number approaches 999 out of 1,000-were apparently open to the argument for what is called "fetal reduction."
So selfish are most of the couples entering this brave new world that when God answers their prayers a bit more abundantly than they think appropriate, they decide to do away with some of God's answers. The horrible procedure is most common with triplets and more, but is sometimes used even to eliminate one of a pair of twins.
Wall Street Journal reporter Barbara Carton last week described a true case of reducing triplets to twins: "Dr. Evans hovers over the woman's belly with a foot-long needle and examines shadowy uterine images on the ultrasound scanner. He looks for a deformity that would make the selection easier, but finally he says: 'We don't see anything obviously wrong with any of them, so we're just debating which is easiest to get to.'
"He decides, then pierces her belly, guiding the needle until he punctures the chest cavity of one fetus. 'Perfect,' he whispers. He injects three cubic centimeters of potassium chloride. The fetus flails its arms and legs, then stops."
The typical excuse, believe it or not, is that it would be inhumane to run the statistical risks of a multiple pregnancy. Those risks are real, to be sure-but at their worst, hardly as terrifying for the baby as the altogether certain effect of the search and destroy mission so regularly employed.
In fact, it's blatant selfishness-not humane generosity-that drives "fetal reduction." The Wall Street Journal writer suggests a telling question pondered by those who seek such destruction: "What if you eliminate one or more fetuses, and then the others don't survive?"
As horrifying as such a shallow moral outlook may be, it served last week to accentuate the confident faith of the McCaugheys. The God who formed seven babies in their mother's womb was competent also, in the minds of Ken and Bobbi McCaughey, to protect them until they were born and to provide for all their needs later on. If God chose to do something different, that was also his right. "We're just trusting in God," said the beaming father. "He says in his Word that he'll provide our needs according to his riches in glory." It was a remarkable testimony that the world was hearing, and God gave the McCaugheys a big megaphone.
Yet having paid tribute to the faithfulness of the McCaugheys, it detracts nothing from them to note how close to the edge they had to walk. Because of their early decision to ask God to bless their family through modern medical technology, they ended up having to make a fearsome choice. God heard their first request-and then he sent a huge challenge with his answer. Would they be faithful?
Since so few people are prepared to go this whole distance of godly obedience, only a few should start down the temptation-filled road. It's a basic of the Christian life that you stay away from temptation; Jesus even taught us to pray that God would keep us from such situations. Deliberately to enter such an arena-even for the wonderful gift of a much-desired baby-is an iffy matter.
All of which is in no sense a criticism of the McCaugheys. Their faithfulness seems above reproach. It is instead to remind the rest of us that not many of us are made of the same heroic stuff. We should be very careful where we walk.