The Vengeance of Hippokrates
I was sitting in class at Modern Christian University, half-halfheartedly listening to the lecture, when the lecturer said something which startled me awake: “…and other questions which cannot be answered and on which Christians may agree to disagree–like Abortion.” He had said it casually and tangentially to his speech, which was about another topic altogether. He didn’t pause to defend his statement, and there was only one brief moment during which it would have been opportune to raise an objection. But as often happens in this situation, I was suddenly afflicted with an episode of labial paralysis which prevented my mouth from opening. Instead, I dumbly looked around and saw the other MOC U students mutely squirming in their chairs–and concluded that it was an epidemic. One raised her hand tentatively, but lowered it before she was noticed. Another opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. By and by the epidemic subsided, but the moment was gone.
I went back to my dorm that night consoling my cowardice by thinking of all the brilliant retorts and objections I would have made, and would surely make next time. I closed the door and sat in my chair, and reread Peter Kreeft’s The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion. While reading, I fell asleep; and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
I was standing in a room full of men. It was a great auditorium full of young men and women in cap and gown, waiting expectantly to be called to the stage to receive their diplomas. I came to understand that I was at a graduation, specifically a graduation for medical students.
The emcee’s speech dragged on as duty demanded, until at last it came time to lead the soon-to-be medical doctors in the saying of the Hippocratic Oath. This is when things began to go wrong.
By some fatal clerical error, the modern version of the Oath had been replaced by a translation of the original text. At the time when the reciters were supposed to be saying the happily noncommittal,
Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
they instead said in plain English for all to hear:
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
There was a murmur in the crowd, followed by laughter, followed by silence. Then the most marvelous thing occurred.
A tremor went through the building. Someone screamed. When I looked again towards the stage, there was standing one of the biggest men I have ever seen. He must have been seven feet tall if he was an inch. He wore a long, loose-fitting tunic and sandals on his feet. In one hand he held a rod with a bronze snake wrapped around it; in the other hand, he held a sword.
“YOUR CHILDREN’S BLOOD CRIES OUT TO ME FROM THE GROUND OF YOUR SAVAGE GARDEN,” his voice thundered.
Again the crowd was stunned to silence. Finally the emcee stammered, “What is the meaning of this?! We will have no pranks–”
“Silence, fool!” said the great man, and raised the serpent-rod. “Keep your forked tongue between its teeth until it is taught to speak truth.” The emcee tried to retort but was unable. Alarmed, he grabbed his throat, but there was no sound. The crowd gasped, and the large man said something that no one understood: “Qui Verbum Dei contempserunt, eis auferetur etiam verbum hominis.”
Again the man spoke to the crowd: “I am Hippokrates. You have sworn my oath, and now your blood will be on your own hands unless you can give an accounting of yourselves. Speak, if you have tongues. Speak, if you are men and not worms!”
“Please!” someone said in the front row, perhaps a teacher, visibly trembling. “Please! Tell us what you mean! We don’t understand your accusation.”
“You murder your own sons and daughters while they sleep in the womb. Did you think that the ears of Heaven were deaf? Did you think that the cries of 47,000,000 babes, killed in the unblemished trust of their first life, crying out for the very God who they believe has forsaken them, would go unheard?”
“But that’s impossible! They’re not capable of that yet. They’re not even human!–only potential humans,” someone else said.
“Fools! Do you think your sophistries will work on me?” said Hippokrates. “Do you think the lies by which you deceive yourselves and the poor women whose innocence you ravage will deceive me? Decepti vult decipi!
“You say that they are only potentially human. I ask you, then, what are they actually? A chicken, perhaps? A clump of myrtle? No! A potential A is an actual B. An unborn child is not potentially human but actually human; it’s potential is to be an adult. It is a difference of degree, not of kind. Just as it is no less murder to kill an eighteen-month-old than a nineteen-month-old, so it is no less murder to kill a nine-month-old than a ten-month-old.”
“But it is just a part of the woman’s body!” someone interjected.
“Fools!” Hippokrates replied. “You know not what you say! Suppose a woman carries a son. A son is male. Is the woman therefore male? Does she have a penis? Or is she both male and female?–but only for nine months?”
“But we never claimed to know when life begins! We were ignorant! How can you blame us for acting in ignorance?”
“Of your ignorance I have no doubt,” said Hippokrates, “and of your innocence none at all. You cannot claim innocence for yourselves, for you have not acted as men who act in ignorance. Even in the darkness of your self-deception, you doubted your assumption. Would you demolish a building before you were certain that there was no one inside? And if you did demolish it, and in your recklessness killed a man, would your law protect you from punishment? In the same way, you destroy the building (the body) of the fetus though you do not know whether there is any life (the soul) inside. Woe to you, for you will surely not escape judgment!”
“But society forces us to perform abortions! And the women would just do it themselves!”
“Fools! Would you give a starving man a fully belly of food, and thereby kill him? A starving man does not know that he will eat himself to death, but you, his physicians, do. And if you give him what he desires instead of what is good, you kill him. Therefore you give him what is his good, not his evil. But when a woman comes to you, she is afraid and knows not what she wants. She asks for her evil and the death of her children, and you give it to her. She is deceived, and you, together with your kings and heralds and poets and minstrels and teachers of the law, have deceived her and caused her to put herself into your murderous hands. I tell you the truth, the Lord will have more mercy on her than He will on you. On you rests all the infant blood that has been shed since the beginning of the world.
“But all this has been said at length before, though you have not heeded your prophets. Speak no more to me, for thy doom is upon thee.” At this he raised his sword, and the auditorium caught fire. It spread so quickly around the room that the exits were cut off before anyone could reach them, and I do not believe that a single man or woman made it out of the building alive.
Suddenly I woke up, still in my chair, trembling like a leaf. I cried as I have never cried that night, and didn’t fall asleep again till morning.