Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tales of Five Mothers

(on a borrowed computer, that has its own problems...like no cooling fan, so this is not a permanent solution).

As mothers we want what's best for our children, but this story about the baby without the gene for breast cancer has been nagging at me. This mother, in an effort to save her child (and future generations) from a particular affliction, chose to have a cancer-free embryo selected in vitro, rather than risk the possibility of conceiving a child who might have the gene, and thus develop this cancer. Putting aside the obvious ethical issues involved in this sort of procedure, isn't there a familiar ring to this story? Haven't we heard stories about mothers trying to protect their children from harm by extraordinary means, and doesn't it always go terribly wrong?

Consider Thetis, a nymph from Greek mythology and mother of epic hero Achilles, who dips her young son in the River Styx to render him immortal. Scholars of mythology will recall that Thetis holds young Achilles by the heel, so only through his heel can he be mortally wounded. And so he is.

Those who enjoy Norse myths will recall a similar tale, that of Baldur the Beautiful, whose mother Frigg, goddess of motherhood and fertility, extracts an oath from every thing on earth--living and inanimate--to bring no harm to her son. But Frigg overlooks the small mistletoe, and by mistletoe is Baldur's death accomplished.

A more recent tale is that of the Sleeping Beauty, whose parents believe they can prevent harm coming to their daughter by selecting their christening guests with care. Of course, the uninvited guest shows up to curse the baby, and we know the rest of the story.

Yes, these are all myths, but each myth tells us something about ourselves. All mothers want to keep their children from harm, and most will go to extraordinary measures to keep their children safe. But we cannot save them from everything, all the time; if we try, we are frustrated again and again. Someday, each child will have to face tragedy and death; that is part of our human existence. The question is, how far should we go? We do not encourage our children to engage in dangerous activities, but should we be tinkering with their genes?

No doubt, breast cancer is tragic. I lost a friend to an aggressive form of that cancer. She left behind a husband, two young daughters, a sister and her parents. There was no history of breast cancer in her family. It happened anyway. The genetically selected baby may also suffer in ways that her parents can neither predict nor prevent. We all hope that she thrives, but no one can promise anything.

Oh, yes. The fifth mother, the Blessed Mother, endured the suffering of her Son. I wonder if she considered doing anything differently when she heard the prophesy of Simeon...


Stephanie said...

Exactly. (she harrumphed)

And I'm glad your computer woes do not signify anything more drastic.

Kimberlee said...

This is horrific, but not surprising. Maybe if I have some soma I won't feel so badly about it...