Letters - June 10, 1998
Kids vs. careers
I noticed in the April 22 Letters your clever juxtaposition of the responses from Bob Louden '52 and Rama Kocherlakota '85 to the March 11 cover stories on kids vs. careers.
Mr. Louden states that in his business of software development and marketing, he and others categorized people as "pros" or "amateurs" based on their willingness to work. Any desire to leave work for dinner with the family dropped one to "amateur" status. Mr. Louden is proud to have been a "pro." Mr. Kocherlakota, in contrast, must be an "amateur" software engineer because he limits his work week to help raise his children.
Mr. Louden went to a Princeton that was all male, but coeducation allowed men like Mr. Kocherlakota and myself to hear the concerns of women as they debated the dilemma of kids vs. careers. I thank my classmates who drew me into their discussions and helped me realize, as Mr. Kocherlakota does, that this debate is not a woman's issue. That realization allowed me to have a career as a vitreoretinal surgeon while my wife has hers as a pediatric pulmonologist. We have two children whom we both know intimately. We struggle together, and we cheer each other on. We're far from perfect, but I think we're "pros" as both physicians and parents.
Mr. Louden writes that in Silicon Valley things haven't changed since
his day. Fortunately, they have at Princeton. Forget "old" Nassau, and three
cheers for "coed" Nassau!
The letters in response to your articles on kids vs. careers took me back to one of the most sobering moments of my four years at Princeton. In a precept for English 351, Contemporary Fiction, the discussion turned to that favorite buzz term of the Reagan-Bush years: "family values." The professor, Andrew Ross, asked how many of us planned to get married and raise a family. All 15 to 20 students (excepting myself) promptly raised their hands. Then he asked, "Why?" Utter silence. Puzzled and embarrassed looks all around. Finally, someone ventured, with a wavering voice and a shrug, "What else is there?" Sheepishly, the rest of the class murmured its agreement ... and quickly changed the subject.
There we were at a super-elite university, supposedly the best and the brightest, and when asked how we intended to spend the rest of our lives, the best we could offer was a limp, fatalistic resignation to the straitjacket of conformity.
Similarly, when confronted with the choice between a nose-to-the-grindstone "professional" existence (rather grimly described by Bob Louden '52) versus a nose-to-the-diapers existence, why does no one ask, "Why choose either?" Why is it so important to "win" the economic rat-race, or to crank out the shiny 2.5 children? Not that there's anything inherently wrong with either -- kudos to those who choose career or family with their hearts truly in it. But how many actually "choose," in any honest sense of the word? And are there not other roads as well?
Princetonians are an extremely talented and privileged group. Surely
we owe it at least to ourselves -- and if "In the nation's service" is ever going to
be anything more than window dressing, to society as well -- to examine our
most basic values and guiding assumptions with the same intellectual energy
we apply, say, to taking the LSATs.
Professor of Molecular Biology Lee M. Silver ("Ask the Professor," Notebook, April 22) misses the point. Human cloning is not a problem because of the product (a human being is a human being, no matter the source), but because of the process.
Cloned human beings are denied the right to be conceived through the loving marital act of their parents in the shelter of the mother's body. Developmental research constantly finds new ways in which events in the early stages of human life affect later well-being. Who knows, at this point, what physiological and psychological harm can result to the child conceived in a petri dish through technical manipulation of gametes obtained by contrived means? What gives us the right to make human guinea pigs out of children manufactured to satisfy our desires?
Cloned human beings are also denied the natural biological link to both of the people who will raise them. Professor Silver correctly points out that, genetically speaking, a cloned person is an identical twin of the genetic donor. But this means that couples who resort to cloning will not bear their offspring but rather their siblings. The true biological parents will be the parents of the person whose genetic material is cloned. Of course, step-parents and adoptive parents can do an excellent job of raising unrelated children, despite the lack of any immediate genetic link. People can also assume the primary care of their younger siblings when necessary. But why should we deliberately put a child in something other than the ideal situation?
To profess that this bizarre twisting of the family tree will not have
any "negative impact on children, families, or society" is to volunteer the
human race for yet another destructive social experiment that we can all
eventually fret about, discuss ad nauseam, and finally apologize for, long after
untold harm is done. Will we never learn?
In Aldous Huxley's futuristic novel, Brave New World, cloning is synonymous with custom-designed automatons. Professor Silver's assertion that cloning is somehow benign because all "it will do is allow sterile individuals to have biological children" is unconvincing. He makes the mistake of believing that biology occupies some Archimedean position with no relation to what's happening on terra firma, yet providing sufficient leverage to move the earth.
It goes without saying that biology is inseparable from policy. Shouldn't
we be concerned about any policy that permits sterile parents to be only
satisfied with children who are their genetic twins? So many children
out there; so few homes. A Brave New World, indeed.
I believe Professor Silver missed an important ethical issue in his remarks on cloning. An identical twin would be an ideal donor for organ transplants, at least from the point of view of genetics. A much younger, cloned "identical twin" could be even better. An older person needing a transplant could have such a clone created to provide a source for a new organ. Granted, it would take 20 years or so for the organ to properly develop, but I imagine there are some conditions where one could have 20 years' advance notice of the need for a transplant. Or perhaps one creates a clone upon reaching middle age, just as an insurance policy in case the need arises in old age.
Of course, clones would not think of themselves as ideal donors, and therein lies the ethical conflict. I can imagine clone farms in countries where human rights are not well protected.
I don't know how research on human cloning should be regulated. I do
hope those decisions are made with realistic estimates of the costs and benefits.
In the April 22 paw you asked for information about
the cover photograph. It shows me giving a fencing
demonstration to our precept in Professor William
Jordan's History 344 (History of the High Middle Ages) during my freshman
year, in 1993. The woman with whom I am fencing was a senior and a member
of the women's fencing team, but I can't recall her name.
I'm sure that I am one of the two fencers, although it isn't easy to tell from
the back. The occasion was a medieval history class, and I remember that
my opponent (I can't recall his name -- Dan something?) was doing his class
project on fencing, and offered to put on a demonstration for our precept.
I enjoyed the letters on Joe Brown in the March 11 and April 8 issues. When
I was a freshman, Joe was the instructor in our physical education class,
so several years later, in 1944, I was surprised to see him standing next to
me during a physical exam for the draft. I remember his reading from a piece
of paper the list of broken bones he had incurred in his days as a
professional boxer. I believe that Joe wasn't
drafted because of these many injuries and also because at the time he was
teaching Navy and Army cadets at Princeton.
In the March 11 paw you identified one of the two students pictured with Joe Brown in the January 28 From the Archives photo as Lester Mount '43*48. I believe that I am the other student.
Joe and I both arrived at Princeton almost 50 years ago. Competing in
the freshman boxing tournament, I lost a front tooth to classmate Tom
Calvert and did not endear myself to Joe. But returning after the war, I had better
luck as a sculptor apprentice and recipient of his priceless philosophical
dissertations. He was a fine artist and athlete, but
his real strength lay in his ability to make connections among all things: his
experiences in the ring, the famous men he sculpted, and the deep morality
and integrity that guided him in his art and life. He added a new dimension to
my architectural studies and to my future practice, and we remained close
friends until his death. At my 40th reunion Joe asked me to come by his studio at
185 Nassau Street, saying he had a surprise. He pulled down a small sculpture
from one of the shelves and presented it to me -- my first "opus," which he
had saved all those years.
I recently received word from the home where he resided in retirement
that Father Robert Murray died last November 24. In the late 1950s, Father
Murray succeeded the controversial Hugh Halton as Princeton's Roman Catholic
chaplain. During my four years on campus, Father Murray's presence at the
Aquinas Institute was an ongoing source of fellowship, education, and
spiritual encouragement which I value highly to this day. I am sure many other
alumni from my era will be saddened at this news. Let us keep this wise chaplain
in our prayers and remembrance.