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Some Words

The word "normal" can be the most beautiful in the language. It was for me one day last September, as spoken over the phone by the genetic counselor reporting the results of my wife Carole's amniocentesis. The previous two weeks had been among the most nerve-wracking of our lives, starting with the calculation of the risk of miscarriage following the procedure (one in 400) as compared to that of having a child with a "chromosome abnormality" (one in 150) for someone of Carole's age. After the procedure had gone well and she showed no ill effects, our anxiety mounted steadily as we waited to hear the results. Some confusion over what day they would know and what time we could expect to be called -- 4:30-5:00 P.M. with good news vs. later in the evening (when we would both be home) for the other -- led to several hours of utter panic. Then the phone call the next day, a brief sense of blissful relief, and on to the next worry.
We were lucky. Had we not been, we would have been faced with a wrenching decision over whether or not to proceed with a much-desired pregnancy. It's the kind of decision that parents need more help from society in making, according to Dr. Glenn McGee of Penn's Center for Bioethics, profiled in this month's cover story. Genetics counselors and other medical professionals receive scandalously little training in the ethical issues surrounding their work, he says. At the same time, the rapid proliferation of new genetic tests -- of varying reliability -- has created the possibility for serious misuse of results by health insurance companies and "people with calculators." McGee also weighs in on the need for philosophy to engage with real human issues, which led him to bioethics, and the recent controversy over cloning.
It's often been said that words fail before the enormity of the Holocaust -- yet millions of them have been spoken and written about it. How the Holocaust has been portrayed and perceived in American-Jewish and Israeli culture is the subject of excerpts from two presentations at a colloquium sponsored by Penn's Center for Judaic Studies. The gathering climaxed a yearlong project -- described by Center Director Dr. David Ruderman as a "'Camp David' of Jewish studies" -- that brought together American-Jewish and Israeli scholars at the Center's headquarters. Senior Editor Samuel Hughes provides a brief overview of the conference on page 27.
On a considerably lighter note, two more words: Congratulations and Welcome. Congratulations to Penn's Class of 1997, whose Commencement ceremonies -- the University's 241st -- are covered in this month's "Gazetteer." The welcome is for them, too, as they join the ranks of the University's alumni -- as well as for the members of reunion classes and others who returned to campus to celebrate Alumni Weekend (see page 34).
Witnessing the festivities, I was reminded that I had my final interviews for the job of editor of the Gazette on the eve of last year's Alumni Weekend. With this issue, we complete the first volume of the Gazette published by our current staff. For me, it's been a wonderful experience, and a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the University and fellow alumni. I'm pleased to report we've received two CASE awards this year: a Gold Medal for Best Article for "Passion Play at Mt. Pisgah" by David Bradley, C'72, in March and a Bronze in the University General Interest Magazine category. More important, we've tried to produce the kind of readable, relevant, and thought-provoking magazine that alumni expect and deserve.
I hope we've succeeded. In any case, we'll resume the attempt in October. Until then, as the students say, have a good summer.
John Prendergast, C'80

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette | Last modified 6/17/97