Monday, October 21, 2013

Names Do Hurt

The children's nursery rhyme instructed us that, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."   As much as we wanted to believe that we were impervious to the wounds that name calling could inflict, the name calling did hurt.  The names we are called matter because they either build us up or tear us down.  Names have also been used to dehumanize the other.  Racist and bigoted terminologies are used for that purpose - to label someone with a name, that by its definition, declares a person as one who is less than me.

The use of specific names is also used to enhance or protect a particular social or political perspective.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in "political speak" we fail to notice when the use of a name becomes absurd.  Pro-life advocates will use the words, "baby" or "child" when speaking about the unborn human person growing in a mother's womb.  The choice of those words is purposeful.  The pro-life position advocates that the unborn have the same right to life as every other human being, for that is what they are -- human persons who are not yet born.  Pro-choice advocates will use the terms "fetus" or "embryo" as opposed to "baby," because the point they are advocating is that the right to life, is a human right, not the right of something that is yet to be born.  Scientifically these terms are used to describe the gestational development of the unborn being.  A human fetus can only be born as a human - not an elephant.  The embryonic elephant will be birthed as an elephant not a person.  Nevertheless, popular media and pro-choice advocates will use these terms because their position is that this unborn being should not be afforded the same rights as those given to the born.  The name matters.

This thought process hit a level of absurdity this week amidst a tragic news story.  A young women was apprehended for shoplifting and was subsequently discovered with a dead newborn in her shopping bag. The Associated Press report, which was picked up by other print and broadcast media, spoke of the woman being caught with a "dead fetus."   However, the story itself detailed that the child was born alive and then perhaps suffocated.   I heard a radio reporter say "it appears that the fetus was born alive." On their website, the New York Daily News headline uses the words "dead fetus," but in the verbiage of the story the decease child is referred to as the woman's "newborn son."  Even if it is only from a humanist perspective, does this not bother anyone? "The fetus was born alive?" Can we no longer refer to an actual birth as a baby? The word fetus is simply a word for an unborn child yet it has been adopted by those who want to classify the unborn human as something other than human. Now we are using it to describe a child that is actually born?  Using the word "fetus" to describe a child born alive who subsequently dies is as absurd as calling the deceased a "toddler" or "adolescent."

From the website of the New York Daily News

Names matter.  They speak to the dignity of the person.  When we allow the names we use to marginalize someone we are also them to justify their lack of rights; and the circle of those whose rights are limited only grows larger.  

The next time you see or hear an unborn child being referred to as a fetus or an embryo determine if it is being used to describe gestational development or being used to avoid acknowledging humanity.  And in the same vain when you see or hear the term "illegal alien," ask if it is being used to document a person's legal right to live or work in this country, or is it being used to justify their poverty.

Names matter, they do hurt us - when used to negate our sacred humanity.