Some euphemisms are good and necessary. It’s a good thing that people talk about “going to the bathroom” rather than reporting on what they are actually about to do. In this sense, euphemisms nurture polite, wholesome conversation. In other words, they are good and necessary in a decent society.
But some euphemisms are damning in that they intentionally cover-up great evils that ought to be exposed for what they are. When a pornographic movie is billed as having “adult content,” that is a euphemism that serves to salve the seared consciences of sinners who do not want to acknowledge the evil of pornography. Inasmuch as the euphemism provides comfort to a conscience that ought to be afflicted, the euphemism is damning. It simply becomes a cover for evil that ought to be a source of outrage in a just society.
I recently read an article on MSNBC.com on the risks of “fertility treatments” that is shot through with a damning euphemism. The article talks about the fact that fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization often result in pregnancies involving multiples. The health risks of carrying multiples are reportedly higher for both mother and babies, so some doctors have taken to recommending “pregnancy reduction.” Reducing a pregnancy is a medical euphemism for killing unborn babies. In other words, if you’re pregnant with triplets (as one woman in the article was) and if you don’t want three, the doctor will reduce your pregnancy to two or one. That’s pregnancy reduction.
If you don’t think that euphemism is a cover for a great evil, then just listen to how one doctor describes what he is trying to achieve with these reductions: “Part of our job is to help women deliver healthy babies. And sometimes that means offering a reduction.” Translation: “Part of our job is to deliver healthy babies. And sometimes that means killing healthy babies.” The euphemism plainly functions to deflect attention from an intolerable contradictionâ€”a contradiction to which the doctor appears to be totally oblivious.
At the end of the day, it’s not the euphemism that is the problem. It is the heinous evil that the euphemism is trying to cover that should scandalize us. Reducing a pregnancy means killing an innocent human. The euphemism in this case is a rouse. Just as we don’t want to give in to the mores of a decadent culture, neither should we be complicit in covering evil with clever obfuscations. Such talk is a not-too subtle throwback to an ancient method that humans use to justify their own evilâ€”calling evil good and calling good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Make no mistake. God is outraged at that, and so should we.