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On the June 5 Commentary page, a thoroughly scandalized Mary Senander reported that in China they're eating aborted fetuses and demanded that the United States darned well do something about it. |
Senander's missive was a good example of the smear tactic at work. It was the kind of fallacy-laden, bait-and-switch, smoke-and-mirrors sort of argument that is undermining political discourse in the United States.
Prolife activist Senander wrote, "The Agence France Press, Glasgow (Scotland) Herald and the London Daily Telegraph have reported the latest health food fad in China: eating aborted babies to improve health and skin tone.
"One physician was quoted as saying the fetuses are 'nutritious' and claimed to have eaten 100 herself in the past six months. Government-run clinics give them away; they're available from private clinics for $1.25 each.
"Revolting, yes. Surprising, no. China's record on human rights is despicable. Cannibalism, even trendy cannibalism, fits a well-documented pattern."
On the Internet, I was able to find the London Daily Telegraph article to which Senander referred. It appeared April 13, and was itself a secondhand report on an article originally printed in the Eastern Express, a Hong Kong newspaper.
The entire Daily Telegraph report - every word of it - is reprinted below, including the headline. But as you read it, consider some of Senander's semantic sins.
Note first that according to the Daily Telegraph, this isn't the "latest health food fad in China" or "trendy cannibalism" at all. It is instead a very old practice, related to the tradition of boiling the placenta into a broth that is then consumed by nursing mothers.
The Daily Telegraph article, taken as a whole, would suggest that eating fetuses is an eccentric cultural behavior that medical authorities find rather odd and even dangerous.
In any circumstance, eating tissue from a placenta or a fetus, however small, is guaranteed to turn most Western stomachs. But that doesn't qualify such behavior as a government-directed human rights abuse. And indeed, trying to turn fetus-eating into an abuse of power by the Chinese government is the slimiest part of Senander's argument.
"Revolting, yes. Surprising, no. China's record on human rights is despicable," Senander wrote. And there you have it. In three short statements, and with a wave of her semantic wand, Senander transforms an odd cultural anachronism into evidence of the Chinese government's perfidy - and indeed a reason for the United States to punish China by imposing restrictions on trade. That's like demanding that the United States punish the Philippines because some crazed Christians get themselves nailed to crosses at Eastertide.
Here then is the Daily Telegraph article. Judge for yourself whether fetus eating is the latest Chinese human rights abuse.
Chinese trade in human foetuses for consumption is uncovered
By Yojana Sharma in Hong Kong and Graham Hutchings in Beijing
"Aborted human foetuses intended for human consumption are being sold for as little as 1 pound in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to reports in Hong Kong yesterday.
"The Eastern Express newspaper said journalists from its sister publication, Eastweek, had gone to Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, to see if foetuses were being sold. Shenzhen hospitals carried out 7,000 terminations last year, including a number on Hong Kong women seeking cheap abortions.
"At the state-run Shenzhen Health Centre for Women and Children, a female doctor was asked for a foetus. The next day, she handed the reporter a 'fist-sized glass bottle stuffed with thumb-sized foetuses.'
"The doctor was quoted as saying: 'There are 10 foetuses here, all aborted this morning. You can take them. We are a state hospital and don't charge. Normally we doctors take them home to eat - all free. Since you don't look well, you can take them.'
"At private clinics, aborted foetuses could be obtained for between 1 and 1.75 pounds, the newspaper said. There was no evidence, however, that foetuses were being sold in large quantities to middlemen for sale in Hong Kong.
"A doctor said the foetuses were 'nutritious' and claimed to have eaten 100 herself.
"Zou Qin, a doctor working at the Luo Hu Clinic in Shenzhen, said the foetuses were 'nutritious' and claimed to have eaten 100 herself in the past six months.
"She said the 'best' were first-born males from young women. 'We don't carry out abortions just to eat the foetuses,' she said, but added that the foetuses would be 'wasted if not eaten.' The newspaper said the foetuses were eaten as a soup, together with pork and ginger.
"A woman doctor, referred to only as Wang, from the Sin Hua Clinic, Shenzhen, was quoted as saying the foetuses were 'even better than placentae' in nutritional value. 'They can make your skin smoother, your body stronger and are good for kidneys,' she said.
"Dr. Warren Lee, president of the Hong Kong Nutrition Association, said: 'Eating foetuses is a traditional Chinese medicine deeply founded in folklore.' However, he considered the alleged properties of foetuses little more than old-wives' tales. Others said the practice was abhorrent.
"The sale and consumption of placentae is common in China.
"Dr. Cao Shilin, of the Hospital of Chinese medicine in Shenzhen, said aborted embryos were taken to factories where they were used in the production of medicines.
"She did not know if any were sold to private individuals, but said there was little medical value in embryos older than eight weeks when, in Chinese terms, they were classified as foetuses.
"She had not heard of foetuses being sold in Shenzhen, but warned that eating them could be dangerous, given the strong medicines used in abortions.
"A doctor in Beijing, who declined to be named, said parts of foetuses would have medical value, singling out the liver as something that could help to cure anaemia.
"But hospitals in Beijing had ovens for the destruction of aborted foetuses, and she had not heard that they had been sold for individual consumption.
"The sale and consumption of placentae is common in China, though frowned upon by the authorities. Only those with good connections to the medical world can obtain placentae, which cost between 2.50 and 3 pounds each.
"According to traditional Chinese medicine, it is regarded as particularly beneficial for a nursing mother to eat her own placenta because it improves her milk. It is usually drunk in the form of a soup."