The Professor, Eider, and Johanna, are already in the seminar room when Ellen arrives. She is several minutes late for the class and is walking awkwardly, the middle of her back bent over to one side, and in obvious pain.
Ellen: (grimacing) Sorry I'm late.
Johanna: What happened to you? You look like you've been run into.
Ellen: My back is killing me. (sitting) And these chairs don't help. They must have been designed by a sadist.
Nellie: What did you do?
Ellen: It's just a spasm in my lower back. I get these every once in a while.
Nellie: Have you seen a doctor?
Ellen: Lots of times, but all they do is prescribe muscle relaxers and bed rest. It gets better for a while, then I get another one.
Nellie: What about a specialist?
Ellen: Them too. Lots of them. What's wrong with modern medicine that it can't fix something like a bad back, anyway? And, why don't any of the doctors care about all the pain I'm in?
(At this point, Eider rises from her chair and walks around behind Ellen, then places her hand on Ellen's head.)
Ellen: Hey! What are you doing?
Eider: You are in a great deal of pain.
Ellen: (visibly relaxing under Eider's touch) Sympathy at last. But what can be done about it?
Eider: (crouching beside her chair and reaching one arm around Ellen's waist while grasping her shoulders with the other) Just relax, and don't fight me.
Nellie: You can't practice medicine without a license.
Eider: This isn't exactly medicine as you term it. There, this is the spot.
(She pushes with one arm and pulls with the other. There is a loud cracking noise.)
Ellen: What was that?
Eider: Try to stand up now.
Ellen: (standing straight) Hey, I can do it. It's still sore, but not like the knives I had before, and my headache is gone too. How did you do that?
Professor: Eider is a healer, remember.
Johanna: Was that a chiropractic adjustment?
Eider: (returning to her seat) There's a little more to it than that. (To Ellen) If you want to come down to the gym afterwards, I'll show you some exercises that will help to prevent that spasm from happening again.
Johanna: Now there's a perfect example of the kind of thing I've been saying all along. All the technology and machines didn't help Ellen a bit, but the right human touch did wonders.
Professor: There is a lot of technique in what Eider did, though. She had to learn how to manipulate joints like that.
Eider: (a little nervously) There is a little more to it than that.
Nellie: Wait a minute. Johanna, does that mean you now accept Eider's credentials?
Johanna: Let's not go that far. Let's just say she has illustrated that you scientists don't necessarily know everything.
Nellie: (somewhat sarcastically) Or we could have done what--grown her a new back?
Johanna: Well, why not, if medicine is all it's cracked up to be?
Nellie: Interesting idea. I read an article last night about a research team that is trying to repair diabetics' DNA so that it will produce insulin, then grow them a custom organ from the spliced DNA and transplant it into the body to take over from a damaged pancreas. There would be no problem with rejection because it would be the patients' own DNA.
Johanna: (picking up this text and riffling its pages) Yeah, well, according to this book, growing new organs will eventually do away with a lot of the need for surgery. Is all this stuff true, Professor?
Professor: Some work has been done along those lines, yes.
Nellie: Sounds a little creepy to me.
Johanna: Not to me. Why if drugs and a little work on the DNA could do away with some of the surgery that is practised, I'd be all for it.
Ellen: My, my, what have we here. A squeamish scientist, and Johanna praising technology all of a sudden. A bit of a role reversal isn't it?
Johanna: Well, I wouldn't want to see some of the other possible uses of genetic engineering.
Ellen: Some of them sound pretty good to me. We could eliminate all the chromosomal damage, give everybody the same amount of beauty and intelligence...
Nellie: If socialism won't make everybody the same, then science will, eh Ellen?
Ellen: (defiantly) It would solve a lot of problems if we could prevent some of the discrimination at the source.
Nellie: Who would decide what the ideal human being would be like--you?
Johanna: You're opening up a can of worms. What about sex selection? Suppose the male doctors in charge of these techniques decide that there ought not be any women born?
Nellie: That wouldn't work for long.
Ellen: Why not? If they could do that much, they could surely clone as many new men as they wanted; they could just do without women. (thoughtfully) Or, women could do without men. That would liberate us from the necessity of bearing their children and being their economic slaves even more than free abortions have.
Johanna: (leaning forward and speaking sharply) You're taking it too far. Abortion is bad enough, but...
Ellen: (interrupting) Now you're a long way out of your role. Surely we're together on the abortion issue. It's just religious freaks like Nellie that are anti-choice.
Nellie: You mean I'm pro-life, rather than pro-death.
Ellen: Where has the author's consistency gone?
Johanna: I'm not with you on this one Ellen; you're wrong. It's murder, and we'll all pay for it in the end.
Ellen: It's just a bit of extra tissue--like a pimple. Why all the excitement?
Johanna: (leaning forward, and now quite upset, choking a little) It's a child. It's a child.
Professor: Our time is nearly up, and this is not an issue that we are going to solve by discussing it here. Why don't you all sum up what you think is the most pressing of the problems discussed in this Chapter. The one you select can be your essay topic for the week. For a change, I'll let you defend a position you agree with. Eider, start with you.
Eider: The practice of whole medicine. Healing the mind and the body, and not just treating the symptoms.
Ellen: Wholistic medicine?
Eider: Integrated healing.
Nellie: I'll go for the understanding of the immune system and a way to eliminate viruses.
Johanna: (in a voice just above a whisper) For the means to eliminate surgery. Most of it, especially when performed by men and on women, is unnecessary.
Ellen: I think genetic engineering is the most important issue. We need a means of eliminating some of the unfairness imposed at birth. It ought to be controlled by women though.
Nellie: Because births are our business?
Ellen: To redress past discrimination and to ensure that women are better than men from the start.
Nellie: Why don't we combine the two and find a way to give you a pill to turn you into a man. Perhaps you would be more pleasant that way.
Professor: That's enough of that, Nellie. (gathering papers together) All right then, the usual.
Nellie: Two thousand words. References. Clear reasoning.
Professor: (leaving) You got it.
Eider: (exchanging looks with Nellie) Well, Ellen, how about we go down to the gym to see about those exercises.
(The two depart, leaving Johanna staring distractedly into space, and Nellie sitting opposite, unnoticed. Several minutes pass.)
Nellie: Want to talk about it?
Johanna: (slowly, not looking at her) When I was fourteen...
Nellie: You thought you were in love.
Johanna: He was eighteen, and had his own car. I thought I was his queen. Afterward, he wouldn't even talk to me, and I heard him boasting to his friends that I was his fifth that year, and the easiest of all to get into bed.
Nellie: You decided to have an abortion?
Johanna: I was afraid. So afraid. I didn't know what to do, and everybody said it was no big deal. It was free, legal, safe, it wasn't as if it were really a baby--all the usual talk. And all lies!
Nellie: What happened?
Johanna: Ever since then I've had nightmares that the baby was actually born and then I killed her later on. I wake up to the sound of babies crying twice a week even now, and I don't think I'll ever escape the guilt.
Nellie: There's more isn't there?
Johanna: I got a venereal infection from him. It scarred my Fallopian tubes. I'm sterile now.
Nellie: Have you seen a fertility specialist?
Johanna: They say more surgery might help, but I don't trust them.
Johanna: Everybody else is having an abortion too. There are no children available, especially for a single woman. Why can't some of the billions they spend on guns solve my problem?
Nellie: There is Somebody who listens.
Johanna: Forget it, Nellie. I appreciate the sympathy I get from you Christians--its better than anything Ellen is capable of--but I'll put my hope in a better incarnation next time around, or maybe the time after, if I've damaged my karma too much on this one.
(After this, the two gather their books in silence after this and prepare to make their departure.)
Nellie: Talk to Eider too, won't you. She knows about stuff like this.
Johanna: (vaguely) Yeah, sure.