The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Friday, November 30, 2001
Scary science on the way and plenty of responsibility goes with it


As Americans begin in earnest the debate concerning cloning, perhaps the most mind-boggling scientific development in history, it is more important than ever to revisit the issue of moral responsibility. Another development in the news this week casts a striking parallel.

Melissa Drexler went home Monday. It wasn't as widely reported as it could have been, what with everything else going on, but the 23-year-old quietly left her prison cell in New Jersey and was taken by car to her parents' home in the town of Lacey, where she probably remains in seclusion today. Reporters camped out at the house, according to a local newspaper, but their efforts to get comments from anyone in the family were in vain.

Who is Melissa Drexler, you ask? Well, you may not remember the name, but you've heard of her. Maybe you know her by her nickname Prom Mom.

That's right. Now you remember. She was big news a few years ago they even did a "Law & Order" episode based on her case. In case your memory is sketchy, here are some of the details.

As an 18-year-old high school senior, Drexler went to her prom in June of 1997 having concealed her pregnancy from everyone, including her parents and the child's father. While at the prom, she went into the bathroom, gave birth to a 6-pound, 6-ounce, live baby boy, wrapped him in garbage bags in the bathroom stall and threw him away. Then she went back to the dance.

She admitted to all of the above in court a year later at her trial. (Ironically, she found part-time work as a babysitter in the months leading up to her sentencing, according to news reports.) For murdering her son, she pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter in 1998 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. She served three years and some change.

A couple of news reports have mentioned the fact that she narrowly missed a much longer prison term. New Jersey's No Early Release Act took effect June 9, 1997 three days after Drexler killed her child. Under that law, she would have been forced to serve at least 85 percent, or more than 12 years, of her sentence.

If that makes you sit up and take notice, try this on for size. If she had killed the baby a few months earlier, she would have never served a day. She would never have been charged. She could have gone to a clinic, taken care of everything and been home in time for supper.

If you're about to dismiss all of this as just a bunch of anti-abortion rhetoric, stop and use some logic for a minute. Why should what Melissa Drexler did in that bathroom stall a few minutes after her son's birth be treated any differently than what she could have done a few weeks or months prior to the prom?

I've been blessed with a reasonable amount of education, and I fail to see a huge distinction there. I sat in the doctor's office four months before my own son was born and watched his image on a TV monitor. He was no less alive at that point than when I held him with my own hands in the hospital the day of his birth.

It hasn't been easy creating a generation of Melissa Drexlers. It's taken many years of training, of instilling in our young people that immediate sexual gratification carries no moral responsibility, that inconveniences such as fetuses can be quickly and neatly removed from our busy lives, and that we as humans are really no better than the rest of the animals so it's all right if we want to act like them.

So, if we teach children and that's what young people 17 and under still are, regardless of whether we want to admit it that it's fine to kill your child before he or she is born, how can we possibly try to teach them it's not OK afterward and expect them to connect the dots?

Melissa Drexler is not an isolated case. We've all heard of a dozen or so teens in recent years who have hid their dead babies under the bed, in the dresser drawer or in the trash can, to be found by parents who never had a clue. Now, those children are becoming adults, and if the pro-cloning crowd has its way, they will have access to some of the scariest technology we could ever imagine, and the responsibility that goes with it.

Do you think they'll do any better handling that?

[Monroe Roark can be reached at]

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