Older Women, Pregnancy and Postmodernism

Free Inquiry, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Older Women, Pregnancy and Postmodernism


THE IRRATIONALITY OF SAYING NO TO 60-SOMETHING WOMEN

Colleen Clements

It is becoming clearer that the current postmodernist trend in medical ethics is inconsistent and contradictory. This should be expected, because postmodernist ethics is based on a philosophy that denies the importance of logic (reason) and validity (reality). Instead, clinical decisions and public health policy are now supposed to be driven by political and social beliefs and enforced through power strategies.

The best example of this irrationalism that has crept into medicine through the humanities and politics is the proliferation of contradictory ethical statements.

When a woman in her 60s chooses to become pregnant using modern medical technology, some sectors of the medical ethics community raise an alarm. All sorts of silly objections are used:

* Older women will die before the children are in high school (some may, but so may some young women).

* Older women have greater health risks in pregnancy than women in their 20s and 30s (some do, but so do many teenage pregnant women).

* Older women don't have the energy to raise children (yet in African-American communities, many children are successfully raised by their grandmothers).

* Older women are violating some rule of nature that makes menopause the end of reproduction (but all medicine violates some rule of nature about dying from infectious disease, trauma, genetic defects, and chronic diseases).

The implicit conclusion is that older women who want to bring new life into the world should not be allowed to make that decision. Reproductive choice just doesn't apply to older women; and, unlike the reproductive choice for abortion, which requires virtually no reasons whatsoever, older women's reproductive choices must have better reasons than what those women can give.

At the same time, current medical ethics gives older women who have a terminal disease, or who simply want to refuse treatment, the right to make the decision to die. In fact, many ethicists want to extend this right to include assistance in suicide. As long as older women want to take life out of the world, most medical ethicists support and facilitate that decision, with no reasons required.

Why has there been so much criticism? Why has the case of the woman in her 60s generated any comment at all?

We could consider some psychological reasons that are not the most important ones.

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