As someone once said long ago, there’s nothing new under the sun.
While we scramble to keep up with the many implications of the ongoing release of the Center for Medical Research videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s horrific side business, we must not overlook the humanity of the perpetrators of evil.
Literature can help here. One of the world’s great writers has already shown us what Drs. Deborah Nucatola, Mary Gatter, Savita Ginde, and the rest of the fetal-parts traffickers might look like a few decades hence.
Robert Louis Stevenson—yes, he who wrote that distillation of childhood innocence, A Child’s Garden of Verse and essentially invented the adventure novel with Treasure Island—knew the dark side of human nature.
His short story “The Body Snatcher,” published in 1884, anticipated Stem Express (and other fetal “tissue” procurement companies) in Victorian-era Edinburgh. Back then, it was medical students who needed cadavers, and insuring a steady supply was a challenge.
In Stevenson’s story an enterprising young faculty member, Dr. Wolfe Macfarlane, provides the cadavers—for profit, of course. Fettes is the middle man who gets the wakeup calls in the middle of the night and receives large parcels bundled in sackcloth. “For his day of work he indemnified himself by nights of roaring, blackguardly enjoyment,” writes Stevenson, “and when that balance had been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared itself content.”
Fettes lives the 19th-century equivalent of driving a Lamborghini.
The boss of the business is the shady Mr. K—based on the real-life surgeon Robert Knox—whose policy is to “ask no questions . . . for conscience’s sake.”
“‘They bring the body, and we pay the price,’ he used to say, dwelling on the alliteration—‘quid pro quo.’”
Stem Express might be comfortable with the same words.
One night the body of a young woman he knows, Jane Galbraith, is delivered to Fettes. Concerned about foul play and worried that others might recognize her, he confronts Macfarlane, who informs him,
“For me, you know there’s one thing certain—that, practically speaking, all our subjects have been murdered.”
“Macfarlane” cried Fettes.
“Come now!” sneered the other. “As if you hadn’t suspected it yourself!”
“Suspecting is one thing—”
“And proof another. Yes, I know; and I’m as sorry as you are this should have come here,” tapping the body with his cane. “The next best thing for me is not to recognize it; and,” he added coolly, “I don’t. You may, if you please. I don’t dictate, but I think a man of the world would do as I do; and I may add, I fancy that is what K—would look for at our hands.”
A few nights later Macfarlane himself delivers a body. It is that of Mr. Gray, whom Fettes knew to be an associate of both Macfarlane and Mr. K. “To see [Gray], fixed in the rigidity of death and naked on that coarse layer of sackcloth . . . awoke, even in the thoughtless Fettes, some of the terrors of the conscience . . . that two whom he had known should have come to lie upon these icy tables.”
“Macfarlane,” Fettes exclaims, “I have put my neck in a halter to oblige you.”
“‘To oblige me?’ cried Wolfe. ‘Oh, come! . . . This second little matter flows clearly from the first. Mr. Gray is the continuation of Miss Galbraith. You can’t begin and then stop. If you begin, you must keep on beginning; that’s the truth. No rest for the wicked.’”
Fettes is now complicit in murder. He has full knowledge of his guilt. But he admires Macfarlane. Macfarlane praises him. And so Fettes rationalizes: “‘It was no affair of mine. There was nothing to gain on the one side but disturbance, and on the other I could count on your gratitude, don’t you see?’ And he slapped his pocket till the gold pieces rang . . .”
In his rationalization Fettes thinks himself courageous and manly: “Now, between you and me, I don’t want to hang—that’s practical; but for all cant, Macfarlane, I was born with a contempt. Hell, God, Devil, right, wrong, sin, crime, and all the old gallery of curiosities—they may frighten boys, but men of the world, like you and me, despise them.”
In 1884 the expression of such a contempt signaled an abnormal character likely to dally with evil. Today, the identical (though less articulately expressed) contempt for “right, wrong, sin . . . and all the old gallery of curiosities” is the definition of coolness among most elites—and the norm among medical professionals.
Stevenson’s drama builds to its conclusion, and Fettes becomes a broken old man who lives “in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation,” who must drink five glasses of rum every night to subdue the demons that deny him sleep otherwise.
In the horror story in Stevenson’s day, evil was defined by taking innocent life. The rules of the literary genre may have changed since then, but human nature has not.
Post-abortive women know that the laws that are written in the human heart can be violated only so many times before the human heart itself will revolt—whether or not the possessor of that heart realizes what’s happening. A conscience can be ignored or abused only so long before it exacts a horrible price from its possessor.
We do not know whether people involved in today’s triangle trade of abortion for body parts for cash are now examining their consciences, or only their business practices.
But we can hope—and those who are religious must pray—that the right casual word here or reaction there from someone whose opinion they respect will plant a seed of re-consideration in the hearts of the perpetrators of evils now being revealed to the world.
As we who have religious faith hope for mercy for ourselves, we must pray that the unfolding events in some way will cause the Fetteses and Macfarlanes of today to hearken to the law that is written in their own hearts, and to eschew the rationalizations that allow them to be parties to the murder of innocents.
Stevenson’s story is valid because human nature does not change; however, some background should be updated. Medical students still need cadavers to dissect, so they can learn how to heal the human body. Today, people donate their bodies to science by registering with a medical school anatomical donation program such as this one prior to their demise. When the teaching is completed, remains are returned to families for proper burial or cremation or buried in the medical school’s cemetery. No money changes hands.
The homeless unfortunate living on the street does not end up on a medical student’s table. Unborn babies should be so lucky if their mother happens to go to Planned Parenthood.
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Connie Marshner is a commentator and researcher on life and family issues in the Washington, D.C., area.