Amid the speculation regarding John McCain's choice to complete his presidential ticket, I offer my unsolicited suggestion for his vice president: the first woman — and youngest — governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who is an unstereotypical and effective Republican.
During her first year in office, as reported by the Associated Press on May 10, she "distanced herself from the old guard, powerful members of the state GOP (and) stood up to the oil interests that hold great power in Alaska, and with bipartisan support in the statehouse, she won a tax increase on the oil companies' profits." Last December, this mother of four children, Mrs. Palin, four months' pregnant, found she was going to have a child with Down syndrome — a condition characterized by moderate-to-severe mental retardation. A school friend of one of my sons had Down syndrome; I have also known functioning adults with the extra chromosomes of that syndrome.
However, as a longtime reporter on disability rights, I have discovered that many fetuses so diagnosed have been aborted by parents who have been advised by their doctors to end the pregnancies because of the future "imperfect quality of life" of such children.
Mrs. Palin's first reaction to the diagnosis was to research the facts about the condition, since, as she said, "I've never had problems with my other pregnancies." As a result, she and her husband, Todd, never had any doubt they would have the child.
"We've both been very vocal about being pro-life," she told the Associated Press. "We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential." In an age when DNA and other genetic-selection tests increasingly determine who is "fit" to join us human beings, we are witnessing the debate between sanctity of life vs. quality of life being more often decided in favor of death. This is a result welcomed by internationally-influential bioethicist Peter Singer. He is now a celebrated Princeton University professor, who, in July 1983, wrote in Pediatrics, the official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: "If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can plausibly be considered morally significant." And there are bioethicists who point to the continuing costs of rearing a "defective infant."
By inspirational contrast, Mrs. Palin, says of her new son, Trig: "I'm looking at him right now, and I see perfection. Yeah, he has an extra chromosome. I keep thinking, in our world, what is normal and what is perfect?" Three days after she gave birth, Mrs. Palin was back in her Anchorage office with her husband and Trig. "I can think of so many male candidates," she tells the AP, "who watched families grow while they were in office. There is no reason to believe a woman can't do it with a growing family. My baby will not be at all or in any sense neglected." Says the governor of Alaska: "I will not shirk my duties." Taking her stand for life as a holder of high political office is all the more valuable in the face of the termination of fetal lives as not worth continuing before they can speak for themselves. Mrs. Palin's stand also puts a searching light on the growing "futility" doctrine in hospitals which is affecting people of all ages.
Nancy Valko, a medical ethicist and intensive-care nurse I consult on these lives-worth-living debates, has emphasized that "with the rise of the modern bioethics movement, life is no longer assumed to have the intrinsic value it once did, and 'quality of life' has become the overriding consideration." Because of Mrs. Palin's reputation as a maverick, and her initial reduction of state spending (including pork-barrel spending), life-affirming Palin connects with voters. For these reasons, she has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Mr. McCain.
She would be a decided asset: an independent Republican governor, a woman, a defender of life against the creeping culture of death and a fresh face in national politics. She was described in "the Almanac of National Politics" as "an avid hunter and fisher with a killer smile who wears designer glasses and heels, and hair like modern sculpture." Moreover, I doubt that she would engage in such campaigning, as Sen. McCain's strongly implying that a Hamas terrorist saying he would like Barack Obama to be president thereby damages Mr. McCain's opponent (though Mr. Obama has totally condemned Hamas). Still unknown is whether Mrs. Palin would be as flip-flopping as Mr. McCain on the Bush torture policy that has so blighted our reputation in the world. But we would find out: If chosen as his running mate, she would create more interest in this already largely scripted presidential campaign.
And her presence could highlight Mr. Obama's extremist abortion views on whether certain lives are worth living — even a child born after a botched abortion.