SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
The media seems to have moved over from the fourth estate (reporting) to the third (judiciary). There needs to be space for alternate voices to be considered and heard. Should we let the media promote values and direct the debate on questions of ethics?
A few weeks ago leading dailies carried the picture of a grieving couple. Usually, people tend to empathise with such portrayals of grief. But in this case, many not only did not sympathise, but were actually angry with this couple. The couple's grief was because the Mumbai High Court had rejected a request to allow the medical termination of pregnancy. This is the story of a young couple in Mumbai who wanted to abort their unborn baby because it is suspected that the fetus has a congenital heart problem and may have to even use a pacemaker for the rest of life. The court refused to allow this because the law does not permit abortions after the 20th week and this child was already beyond the 24th week.
What was surprising was that the argument seemed to be that the quality of life for the child would be affected. Though it may be universally agreed that quality of life is significant, another important question does come up: Is this the only criterion for life? In this case, other questions also do pop-up: Do only perfect (or near-normal) babies or humans have a right to life? And who decides what is normal?
Value Of Life
It is time that we as a society rediscover the value of life. Certainly, we do know people who may have severe handicaps but who contribute to society and have not lost their zest for living. One modern day example is Stephen Hawkins, who has been on the forefront in the scientific realm. And what about Joni Eareckson Tada, who was injured in an accident and has been a quadriplegic since? In spite of her handicap, she has been a source of encouragement to many. Would the world be a better place without those who have some physical handicaps?
The argument that seems to be getting centre stage is that we should not burden those who would be parenting such children. With the advances in medical sciences it has now become possible to detect probable congenital problems in the fetus itself. A news report in the subsequent days talked about the increase in cases where to-be-parents were lining up for diagnostic tests for the fetuses. Dr. Dhillon from Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai says that she had even a taxi driver walk in and ask 'Please check that my child doesn't have the abnormality the Mehta's baby has'. 'Will our child be normal?' That's the top question in the minds of couples after this case' says gynecologist Bipin Pandit from Mukund Hospital, Andheri.
But are there not considerations other than how far science has advanced? A futuristic novel by Robin Cook may be prophetic on what could happen when we let medical science go ahead of questions of ethics. The Marker narrates the case of a twenty-eight year old man which is very puzzling. He had a foot injury and died, but there is no evidence on what caused his death. When a woman who has had knee surgery dies for no apparent reason, Dr. Laurie who serves in the office of the Chief Medical Officer of a hospital in New York, begins to think that the two cases are related. When two more exact cases come in, Laurie begins to believe there is a serial killer operating in Manhattan General. As more cases pile up, the only thing the victims have in common is they were young, healthy and new subscribers to AmeriCare Health Insurance. The factor that caused them to be put to death was that their genetic code indicated that they would cost the Insurance Company a lot of money in the future because of an illness that they were all susceptible to. So, to avoid future costs, an executive in the company had ordered their killing.
With the advances of medical sciences very soon it may be possible to tell much about the unborn baby. Even today prenatal tests can detect chromosomal abnormality and a host of other possible illnesses and complications. It may not be much into the future when we would be able to use genetic information to find out about major illnesses that a fetus is vulnerable to. Would we then not allow babies with possible current and future defects come into the world? Would we then have a world with only perfect humans? Does this not sound horrible? Maybe, by that test, many of us may not have the right to life itself.
Handicapped, A Burden? This discussion also makes one wonder - how do those who were born handicapped feel about this debate? Do they consider themselves unwelcome? Do they deem themselves to be a burden on those who care for them?
We should echo the words of the Psalmist who exclaims: 'For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.' Will we encourage those born with physical handicaps or other deformities to echo these words?
It is time that those who care about the unborn come out of the woodwork and speak up. Speak up at our place of study, speak up at our place of work, speak up in the places we live, speak up for the silent helpless ones. Or would our generation be guilty of the silence of the sheep as the lambs are being slaughtered?