In Psych of Death and Dying tonight we did an ethics activity where one dialysis machine was available and five people needed it. I've done the activity before in other contexts so I knew what the basic idea was. In groups, we needed to decide on the best, most deserving person to use the machine knowing that the others would die as a result of not being chosen. We are given some information about each candidate, and then once we decide we are given more information about each candidate that is designed to call our original choice into question.
The point of the exercise is really no point at all: all lives are significant and there is no "right" answer. Done. I picked the 42 year old man who was on the brink of discovering the cure for cancer. To me, that seemed like a no-brainer.
What shocked the hell out of me was the way that the class eliminated the women from the group. There were three men and two women. The majority of the class chose Dave, a 19 year old male. Gone was Edna, a single 34 year old woman. Why? Because she didn't have kids. No one depended on her. Gone, also, was Coda, a 28 year old mother of four. Why? Trick question. Some people had originally chosen her, but with the additional information that it was actually her mother that did most of the caretaking for the children, off the list she went. Because the kids had someone that would raise them. Both women were young and firmly established either in a career or as a housewife. Yet they were not considered "worthy" of life as much as....
The 19 year old boy. Who is, I may add, childless, but apparently that's not a measure of value for men, only for women. Think of the potential this young man has! they proclaimed. As opposed to the 34 year old professional businesswoman who may as well drop dead for all she's contributing to society in the way of offspring.
I'm really surprised how much this is bothering me; it's a class exercise. It's a class exercise designed to show that no one's choice is correct. Done, end of story. But the people in my class were so dead set against these two women--saw no value in them whatsoever--and I kept sitting there thinking "This is me. I am Edna. And if these people are, God forbid, in charge of my life (which someday they may be--they're all younger than I am by about 10 years), I'll be shut down not because of something I've done, but because of what I *haven't* done." I haven't had children. I don't know that I ever will. I may never get married. And I left class tonight feeling like my worth as a person had been called into question. It was such a huge reminder that though I am surrounded by single women friends and married women friends who have decided not to have children and they love me and support me, the world is still uncomfortable with single, childless women.
I know, I'm going overboard with it. But, hey, as a single woman I guess I need to stick my voice out there and be heard. Who knows when someone will point the finger at me and decide that my value is less than--not equal too--that of a 19 year old boy.