Unique and unrepeatable

I was always intuitively and viscerally upset whenever women who had suffered miscarriages would lament well-intentioned people having attempted to console them with the words, “You can try again.”

Like Job’s “friends”, such people unfortunately misunderstood the nature of the situation so profoundly as to be unable to offer a meaningful response to those suffering this loss.

Having understood it intuitively, I also wanted to try to understand as rationally as possible why saying, “You can try again” is so inappropriate.

That is when I came upon this compelling paragraph by bioethicist Robert Spaemann who tackles various intellectual positions that would seek to eject members from the human family.

He says:

When we become conscious that we are hungry, our hunger does not begin only with our consciousness of it. Rather, the same hunger that was first unconscious then becomes conscious. Each of us says, “I was conceived on such and such a date and born on such and such a date,” and children ask their mother, “What was it like when I was still in your tummy?” The personal pronoun “I” refers not to the consciousness of an “I,” which none of us had in the womb, but rather to the nascent living being, the man who only later learned to say “I.” And has learned to say “I” only because other human beings first addressed him as “thou” before he could say “I.” Even if this being never learns to say “I” because of some disability, he belongs as a son or daughter, brother or sister to a human family, and therefore to the human family, which is a community of persons. There is only one admissible criterion for human personhood: belonging biologically to the human family.

When it comes to losing a child through miscarriage, it is enough for a mother (and father, siblings, other relatives, friends, etc., etc.) to understand that the lost child was hers (/and theirs) for the child’s personal existence as somebody to be affirmed. The child was not mere individuated matter, but had a subjective existence, both a life of his or her own and a life in relation with others.

Even before a person does anything differentiating him or herself from others, he or she already has a personal nature by virtue of being in a moral relation with other persons in particular.

John Paul II used the phrase “unique and unrepeatable.” Just as with anyone else we love, we know that each person cannot be replaced and that this is a key dimension of their preciousness to us.

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