Reminder: Human Beings Are Not Commodities

Earlier this month, the New York City Health Resource Administration unveiled a series of posters designed to combat teen pregnancy. The posters have drawn widespread criticism, including drawing fire from both sides of the abortion debate. The primary complaint is that they stigmatize pregnant mothers, and that’s valid. There’s an even more sinister message, however, but it’s not drawing as much attention because it’s much more subtle.

2013 03 15 I'm Less Likely To Graduate

Think about the logic of that statement: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because ou had me as a teen.” The unstated question is: As opposed to what? By waiting, could you have had this child at a later stage in your life, a stage when this child–this particular curly-haired kid–would have had a better shot at life? No. You couldn’t have had this child at any other time. You would have had a different child.

What the poster is implying is that human beings are interchangeable. If you get pregnant at 17 your kid is more likely to have a bad life. If you get pregnant at 27 they have a better chance. But it’s not the same child. Conception is the moment when a new organism is created. Unless you save that particular sperm and that particular egg for 10 years, we’re not talking about improving the life of a specific child. We’re talking about two entirely distinct children.

Does that matter? Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because Madonna going around and adopting children like they were Pokemon (“Gotta catch ’em all!”), parents in India and China sex-selecting their chidlren by killing off the girls, the fact that 95% of babies with Down syndrome get aborted, the entire industry of IVF that tends to treat children as an upgraded model of those purse-dwelling toy dogs, and the looming biothethical quandary of designer children all contribute to the commodification of human beings.  Implicit in all of this is the idea that–as long as you terminate the pregnancy before birth–you can have a do-over. As though a human being were like a laptop or a car or a cup of coffee: a purchase you can postpone by returning the merchandise or a transaction you can unravel if the situation changes.

Yes, I’m pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to be troubled by this trend. Even those who think abortion should be legal can recognize that a living human organism has some moral value, and that we ought to treat them as something qualitatively distinct from products. I’m not saying that these posters are creating that perception, but they sure are disturbing reflections of it.

3 thoughts on “Reminder: Human Beings Are Not Commodities”

  1. Well, you already know my thoughts on this topic. As I’ve said before, we have a friend who had an abortion with his girlfriend, and his comment was that he could just have another baby in the future. So I certainly have seen this trend firsthand — The idea that the person created in the past and the one created in the future are entirely interchangeable people (and that conception in the future is a given).

    With this particular poster, it just seems to me that most teenagers who end up pregnant weren’t thinking as far ahead as high school graduation for the unborn baby that they never planned to conceive in the first place while engaging in sexual activity. It seems like this poster is targeted more toward teens who find themselves pregnant after the fact, and that makes it even more controversial. Sure, one might argue that the poster will help teens think ahead before engaging in sexual activity. But if knowledge of possible teen pregnancy wasn’t a deterrent in the first place, why would statistics about a child’s high school graduation make much difference unless the teen was fine with conceiving already?

  2. Yeah, LT, I do know your thoughts on this topic. :-) And I want to stop and take minute to give credit where credit is due: the Catholic Church’s teaching on these complex, subtle, and controversial issues has been an awe-inspiring combination of nuance and firmness. I have an incredible respect for Catholicism’s unwavering support of the rights of the most vulnerable in the face of ever-increasing hostility from the world. There is no doubt in my heart or mind that Matthew 25:40 applies here.

    I’d just like to point out one writer I stumbled across a few years ago who has really influenced my thinking on this. Her name is Chelsea Zimmerman, and she’s a Catholic blogger who has really shaped how I view IVF in particular. You can find her blog here: There’s also a Facebook page here:

    A friend of mine re-posted this blog on his Facebook profile, and one of his friends replied this way:

    I just have to chime in and say I strongly disagree with his quip about IVF. *Most* IVF results in one or zero babies. The fact is you HAVE to use several fertilized eggs because the failure rate is so high. And people don’t usually do it because they want a litter; it’s a last resort. I wish he would have had a little more understanding and compassion on that point.

    I knew that when I put IVF in my list it was going to draw some fire, but I think it belongs in the list. Here is a piece from Chelsea Zimmerman (this time writing for Human Life International) that I cited in response to that individual’s questions:

    And yeah, I agree with your second paragraph about the poster too. That’s where most of the criticism has been focused, and I think it’s been accurate as well.

  3. Ahhh, thanks for the links! I just read your last link, and I love that it includes the Pope Paul VI Institute and Dr. Hilgers. I have personally benefited from this doc and institute and am working with them right now. I probably would have lost our fifth to miscarriage without them. My twin is a practitioner for the Creighton Method, which works closely with these folks.

    I’m glad you included IVF in the post. It’s a tough conversation, but an important one in our society. The FB comment is correct about one thing — Most people don’t “want a litter”. And because most people don’t want what they end up creating, tragic results ensue. The increased termination of multiples is a glaring example of children as commodities. When 2+ children survive the IVF process, our society is okay with selecting the “winner” and eliminating the other survivors.

Comments are closed.