Leon Kass shared with the Wall Street Journal his thoughts on the Kermit Gosnell trial:
The trial of Kermit Gosnell—a Philadelphia doctor charged in January 2011 with, among other things, murdering seven infants who survived abortions he performed—has been under way for a month. But it was only last week that the case was thrust into the national spotlight. Thanks to intense pressure from conservative critics of the media's apparent lack of interest in the case, the rest of the country has now glimpsed some of what went on for years in Gosnell's benignly named Women's Medical Society.
Investigators who raided the clinic in 2010 saw "blood on the floor" and smelled "urine in the air," according to the grand jury that indicted Gosnell. They also found "fetal remains haphazardly stored throughout the clinic—in bags, milk jugs, orange-juice cartons, and even in cat-food containers." Members of Gosnell's staff testified that the abortionist would deliver babies who had been gestating for as long as 30 weeks, far longer than the 24-week limit imposed by Pennsylvania law. Gosnell or staff members would gouge the infant's neck with scissors to sever the spinal cord, according to the grand jury report. Gosnell referred to the method as "snipping."
These and other appalling details of the Gosnell trial elicit reactions that might be called revulsion or disgust or horror. The word that eminent bioethicist and physician Leon Kass prefers is "repugnance." This intense human reaction reflects a sort of deep moral intuition, he says, and it is one that deserves much more serious consideration than our too-sophisticated culture allows.
"As pain is to the body so repugnance is to the soul," Dr. Kass says as we sit down for an interview in his book-lined office at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is the Madden-Jewett Scholar. "So too with anger and compassion. Repugnance is some kind of wake-up call that there is something untoward going on and attention must be paid. These passions are not simply irrational. They contain within them the germ of insight. You cannot give proper verbal account of the horror of evil, yet a culture that couldn't be absolutely horrified by such things is dead."