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Roche misrepresented

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I am unable to let go unchallenged what must be described as a devious and inappropriate rhetorical strategy used by Anthony Lauinger whose Oct. 12 column, “Of Ray Siegfried, Mark Roche and the child we once were,” uses the death of one good man and our collective respect for our beloved “Lady” to completely misrepresent and mischaracterize another good man, Dean Mark Roche. To be specific, to use the occasion of the death of this prominent figure, Ray Siegfried, and to claim to be speaking in his memory against a prominent figure in the University who has no relationship at all with the sad event he describes constitutes a tasteless effort and subverts proper gestures of mourning.

But there is much more that is wrong. To represent Roche as a proponent of abortion, on the basis of his New York Times op-ed piece, which is the only source the writer cites, signals a colossal misreading, indeed a severe distortion of the text both in its fuller argument and in its several particular points. To have seized on the one particular nuanced phrase that The Observer letter quotes as supposed evidence of Roche’s advocacy of abortion shows the writer’s wholesale failure to understand what this specific phrase actually states, showing instead to what extremes of misrepresentation the letter writer is willing to go. But it also indicates the blanket attempted criticism if this was the best thing he could find in Roche’s op-ed piece to offer as the purported evidence for the fallacious claim about Roche’s position.

Of all the targets for criticism among those many who do actually advocate abortion, why does the letter writer choose to target Roche who, in fact, argued with impressive evidence that there may be other ways to reduce abortions than to concentrate singly on the reversal of the Supreme Court decision of 1973.

To offer the case of the unfortunate woman who evidently took the “legality” of abortion as the confirmation of its moral “propriety” is simply to demonstrate that “law” is not always the appropriate measure of virtue, a point which needs great emphasis in our society as well as elsewhere. The tragedy of the young woman or anyone else who does not know to distinguish between what is “legal” and what is “good” indicates how badly we need to emphasize the centrality of conscience rather than mere obedience to public authority, which is exactly the central argument of Roche’s op-ed piece.

Having devoted my own professional life to protecting the rights of mothers and infants to sleep in the same bed, a biologically valid and perfectly appropriate context for breastfeeding and forms of nurturing, which in many cases saves lives, and having once been called a “baby killer” because of it by those opposed to a scientifically accurate presentation of mother-infant cosleeping, I am no doubt much less tolerant of permitting Roche’s own values, beliefs and purpose to be twisted to the point that they misrepresent who he is and what he thinks. And for that sensitivity, I apologize. But I am grateful nonetheless that it compels me, morally, to try to set the record straight.

James McKenna


Anthropology Department chair

Oct. 21