I just caught wind of this story, a sad tragedy:
On 23 December 2010 [Bei Bei] Shuai became so depressed after she had been abandoned by her boyfriend – a married Chinese man who broke his promise to set up a family with her – that she decided to end her life. She consumed rat poison, and after confessing to friends was rushed to the Methodist hospital.
Doctors took steps to save her, but on 31 December there were signs that the baby, then at 33 weeks gestation, was in distress and a Caesarian was performed. On the second day of Angel's life the baby was found to have a massive brain haemorrhage and on 2 January was taken off life support.
Shuai held Angel for five hours as the baby gradually faded and died....
It would be simply horrible if it ended there. But local prosecutors, who seem hell bent on scoring anti-abortion political points with conservative Indiana voters, have contrived of ways to make it even worse:
...For the first time in Indiana's 196-year history, the state has applied felony charges against a woman that hold Shuai criminally liable for the outcome of her pregnancy. Earlier this month the Indiana supreme court declined to hear the case, rendering a 3 December murder trial almost inevitable.
Lawyers and women's advocates in Indiana were astonished by the prosecution's hard line. To attempt to take one's own life is not a crime in Indiana, so the decision to charge a pregnant woman appeared to be creating a double standard.
This seems to be part of a larger pattern:
As a New York Times magazine piece demonstrated last month, Shuai’s is far from a lone instance. It appears there is a growing trend toward criminalizing mothers who do things like take drugs or fall down stairs (allegedly on purpose) while they’re pregnant. And, as with those other cases, feminists and pro-choice advocates have rallied around Shuai, arguing that attempts to criminalize behavior like hers is part of a broader effort to promote the idea of fetal personhood, and that it poses a threat to other mentally ill pregnant women by discouraging them from seeking help.
Prosecution in Shuai's case just strikes me as inhumane. The woman has suffered grieviously. She did not intend to kill her baby-to-be; she had tipped over the edge of sanity and attempted to kill herself. Why impose more suffering on her? The anti-abortion ideologists have lost a sense of ethcial proportion. We need some Confucian moderation here.
Let's go to The Analects, first:
The Master said: "In their dealings with all beneath heaven, the noble-minded do not themselves favor some things and oppose others. They form judgments according to Duty. 4.10
I tend to like "Duty" for 義 - which could suggest appropriate action based upon one's social role in context - hence, Hinton's translation here. The main point, however, is the general admonition against dogmatism. When considering right action, we should not come in with rigid, pre-determined standards: i.e. abortion is always to be rejected in all cases. Rather, we must weigh the totality of the circumstances, understand who is involved and how they have come into the situation, and come to an understanding of what is best to do in that particular case. Standards are designed to be guidelines, not absolute parameters. If that sensibility were applied to the Shuai case, I think she would not be charged now with murder and face a possible sentence of 40 years in jail.
Mencius, too, has something helpful to contribute here (Bloom translation):
Mencius said: "Before speaking of what is not good in others one should consider what calamities may ensue." 4B9
This reminds me of a saying that my Brooklyn born and raised father-in-law has often uttered: don't spit on the ceiling. The point being: there are ways that taking an overly righteous position one day can come back to haunt you the next. The Mencius quote might imply something more, however. To whom might calamities ensue? It may be that the one who is doing the condemning could find him - or herself in a position of moral condemnation, looking for consideration of special circumstance. It's that good old ethical reciprocity once again: don't do unto to others what you would not done unto to yourself.
Sympathy and mercy. Those values shouldn't be too alien to the misguided Indiana prosecutors.