Discretion, Discrimination, and the Death Sentence.

The Royal College of Midwives recently announced their support for a campaign run by abortion provider the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) calling for the legalisation of abortion up to birth for ANY reason. But what many people do not realise is that abortion up to birth is already legal … for some foetuses.

This is sometimes referred to as Ground E abortion. Ground E was a provision in the 1967 Abortion Act to allow for the termination of a foetus after 24 weeks gestation if: ‘there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. But no specific definition of this term is included in the law. It is left to the discretion of clinicians to decide what constitutes ‘serious handicap’. Clinicians who, while they have great experience fo caring for expectant mothers and unborn or newly-born babies, may well not have any real-life experience of ‘disability’. This has led to some doctors concluding that a pre-natal diagnosis on f Down’s Syndrome, or Cleft Palate,  is sufficient grounds to offer the expectant mother a termination beyond the usual 24-week limit. Neither of these conditions causes ‘serious handicap’, and while it cannot be denied that they both present challenges, they are challenges that can be overcome, increasingly so as medicine advances and the value of early medical and educational intervention becomes widely  recognised. Even when surgery is required, neither ‘condition’ usually produces such devastating effects that quality of life is reduced to the point where they would be better off dead! Quality of life is subjective anyway. If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, then I recommend you ask someone living with one of these ‘conditions’ (and yes, they will be able to give you a reasonable answer).

My own personal feelings about abortion are ambivalent. While I would hesitate to remove the right from another woman, whose desperate circumstances I have no knwoledge of, and do not have to live with, I am still deeply uncomfortable with the fact of it. Much is made of ‘a woman’s right to choose’. But what about the unborn chil’s right to life? There is now strong scientific evidence available that demonstrates that not only do unborn babies feel pain, but they feel it more intensely than an adult, or even a newborn; they are also able to feel pain from, at the earliest, 20 weeks gestation, and most probably even earlier. When life-saving intrauterine surgery is performed on a foetus (post 16 weeks gestation), then both mother and baby are given anaesthetic.When a baby is aborted at any stage of pregnancy, it is not given anaesthetic.

The only thing I am certain of in the abortion debate is that the legal threshold for termination should be the same for all foetuses. Unborn disabled children deserve the same protection under the law, the same right to life, as non-disabled unborn children. Anything else is discrimination.

When, in a speech to the House of Lords, Lord Shinkwin announced his intention to promot a bill to outlaw such discriminatory abortions — his Abortion (Disablility Equality) Bill — he is quoted as saying:

‘…For me (Lord Shinkwin), a one-nation society is one that does not discriminate on account of disability — a society in which disability equality is a consistent realitu…. It (his Private Memb?

ers Bill) concerns an area where, unbelievably the diagnosis of disability carries a death sentence … It is illegal for an unborn human being tohave their life ended by abortion beyond 24 weeks, but if they have a disability their life can be ended right up to birth by law. Where is the consistency, the justice, or the equality in that? … imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation? … If every child is to have the ‘best start in life’ … disabled children must first be given an equal chance to live.’

I know that there are people out there who would disagree. I wonder, if we changed the terminology around late-term (post 24-weeks) ‘abortion, and called it what it really is — *pre-natal euthanasia* — how many of them would start to see things differently?

*Except that euthanasia is supposed to be painless.*

Four Days, Four Nights.

Daddy and I don’t get much time to ourselves as a couple.

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This is Kerry and Tim. I think I vaguely remember them …

Babysitters are thin on the ground — our parents are elderly; looking after a one-man cartload of monkeys like Freddie, who requires as much supervision as a toddler, is exhausting for them. I have no siblings, and Tim’s live a distance away, and don’t get to see Freddie all that often. I only trust those who know Freddie well to keep him safe: it’s too easy to undersetimate his abilities and his fearlessness. We’ve fallen into the habit of socialising seperately. This is probably a good thing, because we live in each other’s pockets most of the time.

So when Tim said he wanted to go on a boy’s weekend to Budapest to celebrate the 50th birthday of his Hungarian-born, long-time friend I was totally cool with it. In fact I was looking forward to playing ‘man-of-the-house’ for a couple of days, you know — having complete control of the TV  remote, slumped on the sofa munching crisps, lightly covered in a golden coating of crispy crumbs with no one complaining about it. I would be able to stir my coffee as vigorously as I liked, and take as long as I wanted to drink it.

The news that it wasn’t going to be a boy’s weekend after all — the other guys were taking their partners — caused me a considerable headache.

 But how could I go? We’d never left Freddie in anyone else’s care for more than a few hours. But it seemed to mean such a great deal to Tim, and I am acutely aware of how often, and how readily he puts his own needs to the back of the queue for the sake of our family. I had, at least, to show willing. So I asked Freddie’s Nanna if she could possibly manage with him for a whole weekend, making it clear that I didn’t automatically expect a positive answer.

Another rock’n’roll night at home …

vs. a night in Budapest.

Surprisingly she agreed — Big Sister would be there to help out, and at sixteen Lucy is not only capable of looking after herself, she is a dab hand at looking after Freddie too, and keeping him occupied. And if Grandad got worn out with it all he would just take himself off upstairs for a snooze.

King of the Castle … And guess who’s the dirty rascal, down at the bottom behind the camera. Continue reading

Heart and Sold.

We took Freddie to an art exhibition the other day. We saw works in widely differing styles, and there was some photography too, but they all had one thing in common — they displayed the arrestingly original viewpoint offered by an unrestricted eye. We could’ve been in the Tate Modern, but we weren’t — there was a singular lack of self-concious pretension, for a start — we were at the Salford Museum and Art Gallery for the Heart and Sold exhibition.image

Heart and Sold is a pioneering arts initiative which promotes and supports artists who (happen to) have Down’s Syndrome. It aims to educate, to raise awareness, and to prove that people with Down’s can be whatever they want to be. It represents the artists, facilitates the sale of their artwork, and in doing so provides them with a platform, and a future.They work solely for the sake of the artists and their art, and often work closely with the families and carers of the artists to encourage and support them, and build their confidence. Some of those they support have gone on to have their own successful exhibitions, and are now making sales and taking on commisions in their own right.

Heart and Sold was started by Suzie and Paul Moffat. After the birth of their son, Max, who has Down’s Syndrome, in 2007, they became fascinated with the creative nature of people with Down’s, and the startlingly different artworks they produced. They believed that this art deserved to be shared with the wider word, and so, enlisting the help of friend and designer Matt Maurer, and brought the concept of Heart and Sold to life.

 

They began with a small pilot exhibition at a local Arts Festival in Cheshire. the success of this lead to further exhibitions and a fully interactive website, where users can find out about the exhibitions and the artists, and even buy limited edition prints of their works (heartandsold.org.uk). Heart and Sold is now growing internationally, and in 2013 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge accepted an original work from one of their artists — Rupert Flying Over the Clifton Suspension Bridge by Tazia Fawley (she’s one of my personal favourites) — for Prince George’s nursery. The focus of Heart and Sold remains on discovering more artists with Down’s Syndrome, and giving them and their work the exposure and support that they merit.