An old answer for modern questions

Tuesday, November 24, 1998

Is it just me or are the headlines getting creepier? I don't mean the usual stuff, the violence and fraud and natural disasters. That, regrettably, is nothing new.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

"For $350, dear departed's DNA stays" was the headline on a story Friday by The Cincinnati Enquirer's Tim Bonfield. The report explored a new service offered by funeral directors, storing the deceased's DNA. The practice began in 1996 with a New Jersey company, and now a Cincinnati firm offers not only storage but a "genetic profile."

Just when you thought you could rest in peace.

Extremely personal gift

Both the New Jersey and Cincinnati companies claim to have built-in safeguards to protect the privacy of families and individuals. That will be the day.

Surely someone in the legal community is working on this challenge right now. A few years ago, who would have thought Congress would be reviewing material including presidential semen stains on a dress? Who would have thought the last chapter of Thomas Jefferson's place in history had yet to be written?

The other headline was "Man's suit says his ex's trickery made him a dad." Peter Wallis, a real estate broker in Albuquerque, N.M., is suing his former girlfriend, Kellie Smith, accusing her of "intentionally acquiring and misusing" his semen. She replies that he "surrendered any right of possession to his semen when he transferred it during voluntary intercourse."

She claims that it should be considered a gift. Geez, I hope this doesn't catch on. Most of us would rather have expensive jewelry.

Kevorkian's challenge

Ms. Smith's attorney expects a "flood of litigation" if the judge finds in favor of the plaintiff. And - my apologies if I'm wrong - but that appears to be precisely what most attorneys would like to see. Litigation. Expensive litigation. Litigation that will finance orthodontia and private schooling for all their own sperm-related byproducts.

Not that it is always about DNA. Sometimes the more outrageous headlines are about life at its end, rather than at its beginning. Dr. Jack Kevorkian springs to mind with his latest challenge to the courts, killing a terminally ill man on camera. "The issue's got to be raised to the level where it's finally decided," Dr. Kevorkian said on CBS' 60 Minutes.

And what of a person's right to die? Last month - 3 years after a car crash left him a vegetable - Hugh Finn, a 44-year-old former television anchor died eight days after his feeding tube was removed at his wife's request.

This was after legal wrangling, including a last-minute effort by the governor of Virginia and a state legislator who argued that depriving Mr. Finn of food and water would violate Medicaid rules. We are in very big trouble if life and death hinges on the rules set out by Medicaid.

So just whose rules should we count on?

Here are a couple of other headlines for your consideration.

"Religion suddenly rocks" was an Oct. 17 examination by The Enquirer's Julie Irwin into the success of a new church that targets people in their 20s and early 30s. This month, a headline in the New York Times wondered: "Church Socials, the New Singles Bars?"

The Times reporter, Monique P. Yazigi, spoke to a rector at St. James Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue, who said, "We are getting lots and lots of newcomers in their 20s and 30s." The rector went on to speculate that the newcomers are seeking "spirituality and a longing for community."

Perhaps they are simply looking for answers they cannot find in a headline or a test tube or a courtroom.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.