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Erasing a Child in Omaha

3 weeks ago

745 words

The United States and Nebraska in particular are experiencing the moral equivalent of a psychotic break. We have lost our moorings.

Left: life protected by Republican officials. Right: life disregarded by Republican officials.

This month, a wave of bills is sweeping across the country, uplifting the human fetus as the object of ultimate moral performance. Republican officials, drunk on possibility, are racing to outperform each other in a public show of exalting the fetus–the fetus matters now more than a woman’s choice, now more than a woman’s health, now more than her psychological torment, now more than her life. If a machine can detect a fetal heartbeat, that fetus has more personhood than any person with a uterus. And the moral status of the fetus stretches beyond scientific possibility, with legislators even calling for nonviable ectopic embryos to be transported to the uterus in a religious ritual that would be enforced by law on the altar of an operating table.

Something is happening in these bills that tells us they are not really about what they say they are about. The fetus has become a proxy, a projection of a simple and abstract humanity that we aren’t finding in each other–certainly we aren’t finding it in the raped girl on that operating table or the woman dying of sepsis–but can imagine more easily in beings we don’t see or hear, except in the amorphous blur of an ultrasound image or the electronic pulsing of a doppler wand, the way we might search for angels or aliens in blurred photographs or radio emissions from space, longing for salvation or significance from beings purer, better, less corporeal, less complicated than the unwashed masses around us.

And even as we witness this exaltation of the fetus here in Nebraska, we learn that a ten-year-old girl died here, in government custody, and nobody said a word.

Federal officials acknowledged this week that in early 2018 they took custody of an unaccompanied ten-year-old girl who had arrived at the border from El Salvador. She had congenital heart defects, they said, and that may be so, yet she got to the Texas border from El Salvador, 1700 miles away. How did she get there? Who helped her? What was she fleeing from and what was she hoping to flee to? Federal officials don’t say. Federal officials are not even required to report the deaths of children in their custody. Federal officials are certainly not required to report the names, fears, and hopes of children who died in their custody. What federal officials did report is that shortly after taking custody of the ten-year-old girl she had a surgery, and complications from this surgery, whatever it was, left her in a coma. Federal officials did report that they moved the ten-year-old girl to an Omaha nursing home in September of 2018, and on September 29 she was rushed to Children’s Hospital with a fever and respiratory infection and she died. That is all the federal officials feel the need to report.

And that seems to be more than any other adult reported. Medical staff working here in Nebraska at a hospital that serves children saw a ten-year-old girl die in their facility while in government custody, and it seems not one of them thought this was worth mentioning to the outside world. Perhaps you think they aren’t allowed to mention such things, but HIPAA does allow medical staff to share the information that a child has died.

So a ten-year-old girl somehow got 1700 miles to the border of the richest nation in the world, and the government took custody of her, performed an operation on her, moved her to Omaha where she died of a fever and respiratory illness, and only eight months later does anyone bother mentioning it, still without any humanizing details about this child the world failed, not even her name.

And today our Legislature passed to a final vote a bill that requires doctors to lie to women and tell them they can reverse the abortion pill. We will require lies that exalt the potential human, but allow the erasure of the real child who fought so hard for us to see and hear and help her.

Is this not a country that has lost its way?

Initial news reports contained conflicting information about which country the girl who died in federal custody came from. This story has been updated to reflect that El Salvador seems to be her country of origin.
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