by Bishop F.B. Henry of Canada
Mr. Milquetoast gets up from the table, explaining that he has to go to "the
little boys room" or "see a man about a dog." A secretary complains that her
boss is a pain in the "derriere", a mortician asks delicately where to ship "the
Many euphemism are so delightfully ridiculous that everyone laughs at them.
Yet euphemisms have a very serious reason for being. They conceal the things
people fear, e.g. death, or cover up the facts of life, e.g. sex, reproduction
and excretion. They are beloved by institutions, especially governments, who are
anxious to present only the handsomest possible images of themselves to the
Euphemisms can be divided into two general types - positive and negative. The
positive ones inflate and magnify, making the euphemized items seem altogether
grander and more important than they really are. The negative euphemism deflate
and diminish. They are defensive in nature, offsetting the power of tabooed
terms and otherwise eradicating from the language everything that people prefer
not to deal with directly.
In trying to explain (defend) controversial procedures at the Foothills
Hospital, the regional clinical department head of obstetrics and gynaecology
for the CRHA, recently gave us an example of both general types of euphemisms.
First of all, mention was made of the "Developmental Clinic"; this is a positive
euphemism for a specialized clinic designed to deal with situations when there
is a problem with the baby. Developmental action could entail close
surveillance, some sort of intervention and therapy for the fetus (the
possibilities are still quite limited today), and sometimes with lethal
anomalies, the induction of labour. A rather deadly development for the baby in
this latter case.
Secondly, the clinical department head said that we don't use the term
"genetic termination" but "induction of labour" for infants with a lethal
abnormality. This is a negative euphemism as it deflates and diminishes the
reality of selective abortion of a baby with a genetic disease. The eugenic
decision behind this euphemism presumes to measure the value of a human life
only with the parameters of "normality" and physical well-being, thus opening
the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia.
Euphemisms stand for "something else" and everyone pretends that the
"something else" doesn't exist. It is the essentially duplicitous nature of
euphemisms that makes them so attractive to those people and institutions who
have something to hide, who don't want to say what they are thinking, and who
find it convenient to lie about what they are doing.
It's no wonder the public has the impression that the CRHA seeks to suppress
media coverage of issues around which the public may have deeply held ethical
views and opinions. Securing a court order to protect, supposedly, the
confidentiality of specific internal documents continues the concealment.
Despite the popularity of euphemisms, circumlocution and double-talk,
sometimes there is a need for plain speech.
Inducing labour does not become morally justifiable simply because the
temporal threshold of viability has been crossed. There must be a reason
proportionate to the risks of inducing labour before the pregnancy comes to
term. Unlike some serious physical threat to the baby's survivability in the
womb, the mental anguish of the mother is real and undeniable but it does not
seem to be an ethically proportionate reason to induce labour early. Such a
reason makes the worth of the child proportionate to the emotional state of the
mother. The worth of the child's life becomes proportionate to the happiness or
unhappiness of the mother; but the worth of a human being is never derived from
human relationships, from the joys or sadness he or she might bring to others.
The dignity of every human being is based solely in his or her human nature,
created in the image and likeness of God.
Many hospitals are discovering that the recruitment of personnel willing to
provide abortion services is becoming more difficult. Why does no one like
abortion? Not merely because it is aesthetically messy, or painful, or a sign of
inadequacy, but because there is a silent and unconscious awareness that it is
the destruction of a human being. It is deeply ingrained in our nature not to
kill our own kind. Consequently, [some conclude that] abortion participation
must be made mandatory and part of the job.
The administrative leader for "maternal newborn services" at the Foothills,
in response to the question "Are staff are required to participate in these
terminations?" stated that nurses hired in the past 10 years are required to
participate. The administrator went on to add: "... it's very emotionally
draining for them. When we find the pressure on them to be quite great, we have
pulled them out and provided them with retreat days. If there have been a number
of these situations in a short period of time, it does stress them."
If the institution really cared about the well-being and development of its
employees wouldn't it make sense to take the high road and adopt a policy that
nurses are not compelled to assist with abortions if their conscience so
Given that abortion is elective surgery, and not life threatening (unless you
happen to be the child in the womb), it's sadly ironic that in our times when we
tend to exalt freedom of choice - a woman can choose to have an abortion, a
doctor can choose to perform or not perform an abortion, but a nurse and the
unborn child have absolutely no choice in the matter. A shameful state of
✚ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary.