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Back to 2013_11_16_FYL_El discurso de la bioética, o el eufemismo que no cesa

Manuel Casado, Full Professor of department of Philology and researcher of Institute for Culture and Society '

The speech of bioethics, or the euphemism that never stops

"Hopefully we will not have to regret having been complacent with a mentality that wants to change our current words and impose on us a language of design politically correct."

Sat, 16 Nov 2013 09:25:00 +0000 Published in ABC

With disturbing frequency, the media echo debates on issues that are usually framed within Bioethics, such as abortion, euthanasia, research and experimentation with human embryos, etc. These are issues of enormous transcendence and are deeply involved in the lives of people, since they affect how we manage issues such as illness, old age and death, the beginning of life, the respect due to it, personal freedom and autonomy, the rights and duties of citizenship, and the very identity of the person. If it is always difficult to argue rationally, when it comes to bioethical issues the discussion becomes almost impossible, given the Degree of involvement in the lives of the disputants. We thus witness bitter disputes from different conceptual frameworks and with rival claims about what is true, ethical and just.

On the other hand, and after the suspicion that has been cast on language since Nietzsche and his deconstructivist continuators, to mention words such as person or human nature, truth, freedom or identity staff is to expose oneself to being branded as naive. We are installed in an intellectual climate that MacIntyre called "emotivist", in which all evaluative judgments are no more than expressions of preference, of feelings, of non-rational attitudes.
If it has been decided that truth and reality are discursive constructions, if discourses do not discover reality, but rather create it, it is understandable that when one wants to change a given social reality, one must first resort to the appropriate "linguistic engineering", to coin expressions from design to rename the usual things. Linguistic engineering" is based on the pretension that if we change the words, reality will change, or at least its social perception.
resource The privileged form of "linguistic engineering" is euphemism. The totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century managed to exploit it to the maximum: the communist or Nazi dictatorships implemented, if not anticipated, the verbal camouflage and manipulation that G. Orwell predicted in his novel 1984.

It is true that not all euphemism is manipulative. I am referring to mendacious euphemism, consisting of masking, cosmetics at the service of an ideology. This subject of euphemism, by giving a new denomination to a certain reality, proposes a new vision of it, in accordance with the ideology that coins it. But reality remains intact. Hence the need to look for other substitutes when the use has ended up "contaminating" the euphemistic expression. This is the "domino effect".

A star product of manipulative euphemism is the expression "voluntary interruption of pregnancy" to designate "induced abortion". This expression has been imposed in the official speech with the controversial Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy, and has had the honor of entering the Dictionary of Medical Terms of the Royal Academy of Medicine and even the official academic dictionary. Both dictionaries define abortion as "termination of pregnancy". But not all dictionaries define it this way. The Diccionario del Español Actual (by Manuel Seco, O. Andrés and G. Ramos) and the Diccionario del Español de México, to give an example from each side of the Atlantic, differ from the official definition. For the former, abortion is the "voluntary or provoked expulsion of the fetus". For the latter, abortion is "to expel a fetus before the time it can live or to expel it already dead".

It may be objected that to interrupt also means "to cancel, to cut off the continuity of something". And here again, non-academic dictionaries disagree with the official dictionary, specifying that the semantic trait "for a certain time and space" is part of the meaning of interrupting, which is why it is not appropriate to apply the notion of "interrupting" to abortion: with abortion the pregnancy is not "interrupted": it is definitively cancelled. abortion does not "interrupt" the pregnancy: it is definitively terminated.

Euphemistic substitutes have also been found for euthanasia, with expressions such as "dignified death", "assisted death", phrases borrowed from English. And the same resource is present in phrases such as assisted fertilization for "artificial fertilization", human reproduction instead of "conception" or "procreation". The coining of the term pre-embryo, now happily abandoned by scientists, as Gonzalo Herranz has shown in El embrión "ficticio" (2013), has given shelter to practices of more than doubtful ethics. And the linguistic wanderings of the word gender, forced to mean something different from what it designates in the language of the street, would deserve a separate study.

Doesn't the simple fact that there is so much euphemism in so many points core topic of the current bioethical discussion give food for thought? Hopefully we will not have to regret, like so many intellectuals in the West in the last century, having been complacent with a mentality that wants to change our current words and impose a politically correct design language on us.