Life Turned Upside Down

Printed from:

At this moment in our nation’s history, we may think that the most accurate words to describe our current predicament come from the 17th century British ballad “The World Turned Upside Down.” Certainly, none of us ever expected to see our daily lives upended in the ways they have been.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who are suffering most, whether from sickness, want, or loneliness. We hope and pray that the spread of the coronavirus ends soon, and that the burden, suffering, and loss associated with it be lifted quickly.

We also hope and pray for our leaders who are faced with unprecedented challenges and decisions. May President Donald Trump and the United States Congress and Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts legislature be guided by and act with wisdom, justice, and prudence.

When “the world is turned upside down” many snap judgments must be made at all levels of government. Without sufficient reflection or community input, some decisions are bound to be wrong, even grotesque. Regrettably, one such poor and ill-advised judgment was made in the Massachusetts state bureaucracy. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a policy memo that demanded:  “all hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers are directed to postpone or cancel any nonessential, elective invasive procedures until the State of Emergency is terminated.” Among the examples of forbidden procedures are:  tooth extraction, knee and hip replacements, colonoscopies, and kidney stone lithotripsy. 

One procedure only is specifically excluded from the bureaucratic decree:   abortion. 

Or, in the banal language that the state bureaucracy prefers, “terminating a pregnancy is not considered a nonessential, elective invasive procedure for the purpose of this guideline.”

For sure, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has turned upside down when abortion is given singular concrete preference over all elective medical procedures. 

The extraordinary measures being taken to prevent a coronavirus pandemic in our state and nation can be justified in the name of government action to protect life. One need not be philosophically pro-life in order to comprehend the absurdity of conferring a unique special status for abortion during a time of national action for life. 

Not as a fellow Republican but as a fellow American, I hope that when this directive bumps its way up the bureaucracy to the Governor’s desk, Charlie Baker counsels the state bureaucrats to reconsider. This time of national unity is not the moment for divisiveness. This time when we are called upon to work and act together is not the moment to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

In American history, “The World Turned Upside Down” is most associated with George Washington and an army of American patriots defeating the British at Yorktown and effectively securing victory and independence for the colonies. According to legend, the British played “The World Turned Upside Down” at the surrender ceremony.

The world turned upside down because American volunteers had defeated the vaunted British and Hessian regulars. More fundamentally, the ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” triumphed over the powerful old order of monarchy and aristocracy. 

During today’s time of the coronavirus, we Americans accept restraints on our liberty in order to protect the life and health of our fellow citizens. And we voluntarily put aside our individual pursuit of happiness in order to better sustain the common good.

In essence, we have agreed that our precious liberty and personal pursuits are endowed with the greatest meaning when they are used to buttress the gift of life. Let us not besmirch this time of common burden sharing and sacrifice by elevating radical individualism above life itself.

Let us not be satisfied with repeating song’s sad refrain:  Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down. 

Instead, let it be said that — like our patriotic forebears — we did not remain content and self-satisfied, but acted for the greater good to protect life.


Jim Lyons is the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.