A Question On What Might Have Been…

…seems to be plaguing a large portion of our culture right now.  Earlier this month, the Duggar family, stars of TLC’s show 19 Kids And Counting suffered a heartbreaking tragedy with the loss of their 20th child, Jubilee Shalom Duggar.  At the 19-week check-up, Michelle Duggar‘s doctor could not locate the baby’s heartbeat, and Michelle miscarried three days later.  The family was understandably devastated, and last week held a memorial service for Jubilee.  The centerpiece of the service was a four minute long letter Michelle recorded addressed to Jubilee.  Accompanying the letter were two photos the family took of Jubilee after the miscarriage.  In one, the baby’s hand rests on one of Michelle’s fingers, dwarfed by the size of her mother’s hand.  The other shows Jubilee’s feet held between two fingers of either Michelle or Jim Bob’s hand.  The photos are black and white, and the second has the caption “There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.”  On the surface, the photos emphasize the stark difference in size between the parents’ full-grown hands and baby Jubilee’s undeveloped hands and feet.  The deeper message, however, was intended to be one of remembrance, love, and hope.  The baby’s name even means “celebration of peace,” and through this whole process, the Duggars have been emphasizing their peace with the situation through their hope of seeing Jubilee again.  Overall, despite the tragedy, it’s a positive story.  So why is there such harsh controversy surrounding it?

The story has been most popularly reported on TMZ.  Here are a few examples of the public’s reaction to the photos:

This is just not right! The baby never saw the light of day, yet they took pics of it. Something is inherently wrong and disrespectful about this.

This is wrong, SO wrong.

okey each family griefs different, but this, is disturbing.

This is just a small (and censored) sampling of the harsh critiques on the photos.  Readers can view the full comments for themselves by following the link below, but I’ll warn you now, a number of the comments use disappointingly rude language: http://www.tmz.com/2011/12/14/duggar-family-dead-baby/1/#comments-anchor

Despite the insulting words used to describe the Duggars in several comments, not all of the discussion is bad.  Follow the train far enough, and some real debate gets going.  About half of the comments are in support of the photos, while the other half derides them, and most of the comments are well-written arguments.  Not everyone is entirely sure how to react to this unconventional memorial: some say it’s for publicity, others take the relativist view of “everyone grieves in their own way,” others just want people to stop arguing for arguing’s sake.

My opinion on the story itself is that it is tragic and heartbreaking, and I extend my condolences to the Duggar family.  As for the photos, I think they are examples of a reality that we don’t often get to see: an unborn, undeveloped baby.  I think the photos are, in terms of photography, artfully done, and though their subject matter is surprising, I think the Duggars chose well when they decided to only portray Jubilee’s hand and feet.  They are normal, un-disturbing things to see.  My interest lies not so much with the pictures, but the public’s reaction to them.  Why is there a debate?

While doing my research, I found an ABC news poll connected with their coverage of the story.  I voted, and viewed the results: %15 of voters were unsure of their reaction.  Here’s the kicker: %42 percent approved, and %43 didn’t.  The math is easy, but still surprising: that’s a one percent difference between the two sides.  It’s rare to get such an evenly divided controversy…or is it?  Naturally, any debate on an unborn baby is going to involve the abortion debate: that controversy is so ingrained in America’s view of unborn children that it’s unavoidable.  The two sides of the abortion debate are pretty evenly distributed, and since that debate is intimately intertwined with this one, it shouldn’t surprise us that the results are the same.

The controversy over abortion, I think, also explains the controversy here.  At its heart, whether or not aborting an unborn child is wrong depends on whether or not an unborn child is considered alive.  Everything else is fluff.  The argument comes down to this: when does life begin?  Now, fear not, I’m not going to get into that debate.  But I am going to apply that question to the controversy surrounding Jubilee.  If, as an unborn baby 19 weeks old, Jubilee was not alive, then taking pictures of her should be no different from taking pictures of a couch, or a piano, or a car, since none of those things are alive.  If, on the other hand, as an unborn baby 19 weeks old, Jubilee was alive, then the pictures are in fact of a dead human being, a concept which in and of itself is disturbing.  Here’s what fascinates me: if our culture does in fact believe that aborting unborn babies is acceptable because they are not alive, then, following the logical process above, our culture should have no problem with the Duggars’ photos.  The fact that there is a controversy reveals a shocking thing about our culture: that despite the raging debate over life, it is a thing ingrained in the human psyche that unborn babies are, in fact, alive.

Now, don’t come after me with pitchforks and torches just yet.  Go over my logic and see if you can find something wrong with it.  If someone does, please tell me.  But as it stands, my argument is valid.  To kill an unborn baby goes against the inherent moral psyche of humanity.  So then, one may say, what about the people who think the pictures are appropriate?  Following my logic through that, those people are supporting disturbing images of a dead human being!  How can that be OK?  That, readers, is the point: it’s not.  The pictures are uncomfortable because they display an uncomfortable side of life: death.  Those people who take issue with the photos are actually taking issue with death, a fact which makes the positive reviews all the more surprising.  Those people who approve of the photos are not approving the display of a lost life: they are approving the memory of that life, and the thoughts of what that life may have been.  That was what the Duggars were trying to achieve: they are celebrating the brief life of baby Jubilee, and although that life is now gone, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a special life.

In the end, either way you look at it, the pictures are appropriate.  They remind the public of the sad fact of death, but also of the hopeful fact of life, even in such a small form.

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Question On What Might Have Been…

  1. You missed one key point of the whole thing–marketing. What better publicity is there for a reality show than to feature one of the cast die? As debased and cruel as that sounds, it’s true. And whether the people arguing about the publicity are for it or against it, they’re contributing to it, like every news story nowadays. Personally, I’m sickened that the parents’ agreement to publicize her death and exploit it in such a way. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about the idea of taking an unborn child and using it for marketing is revolting to my nature, regardless of what philosophical musings we may glean from the pictures.

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