You Are. But do you think?

How do we square the fact that, under UK law, a foetus has no rights separate from those of its mother, with the fact that it is undoubtedly a living human being? Anyone who has ever been pregnant will tell you that the foetus is most definitely alive. Every foetus that survives pregnancy will be born a human baby – it has no potential to become anything else. It is, therefore, a living human being. Why, once the threshold of viablility is passed, does it still have no rights of its own?

 

How do we square the fact that those who would deny the foetus any rights and protections in law under the guise of ‘a woman’s right to choose’, then limit that right to choose by steering women towards one particular course of action over another, according to what is considered socially acceptable in her circumstances? How is true choice possible when society exerts subtle pressure on women to choose one course of action over another instead of allowing her to decide for herself. For Instance, in the case of prenatal screening, a woman’s right to choose is fast being conflated, in society’s expectation, with a woman’s moral duty to abort a foetus found to have certain disabilities or conditions.

 

How do we square the above with the Rights of Disabled Persons?

 

Would it not be sensible to take the decision not to have any children at all, if you really believe that you could not cope with raising a disabled child? After all, there is no guarantee that the child born healthy and non-disabled today will remain healthy and non-disabled tomorrow, because shit happens. For that matter, what would you do if you ended up having to care for a disabled spouse, because shit happens? Or disabled elderly parents, because shit, and ageing, happen? Would you knock them on the head and say you had to do that because they were too difficult to look after and, in your opinion, had low quality of life?

 

Does asking these questions make me ‘pro-life’? If it does, what’s wrong with respecting the dignity and sanctity of human life anyway? That respect is probably the only thing stopping me from throttling the people who suggest my son should not have the right to life.

 

Does asking these questions make me ‘anti-woman?’ No woman is just a woman, she’s also a human being, and was once a foetus (as we all were). She may also be Disabled. Or any one of many other things. Intersectionality is part of all human experience to some degree.

 

How do we care for and protect women who have been abused or raped, or are economically disadvantaged, etc, and at the same time give rights and protections to the unborn child?

 

If we refuse to protect the unborn Disabled child, what does this say about our perceptions of disability? And do these perceptions negatively affect the lives of children and adults living with disability? Doesn’t the view that Disabled people are ‘disposable’ before birth tend to erode their status after birth? How does this attitude affect public planning and the provision of services, and so on?

 

Don’t kill, rape, abuse, or discriminate. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Protect and care for the vulnerable. Aren’t all these things no-brainers?  

 

 

 

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This Value-for-Money life.

There is an article on the Daily Mail website today that has left me feeling rather disturbed. For once, it is not the opinions expressed within the article, nor those implicit in the language or phraseology of it that have caused my discomfort (though there were a couple of unfortunate references to ‘Down’s babies’). The article itself is perfectly reasonable, and gives a voice to the families of people with Down’s. What has disturbed me is the fact that it needed to be written. It begins with this headline:
‘You can’t put a price on a Down’s child’s life! Families’ fury as top doctors say lifetime cost of care to NHS justifies new simple blood test for mothers-to-be’
It then continues:
‘Senior doctors sparked fury yesterday for suggesting the NHS should work out the ‘cost effectiveness’ of caring for children with Down’s syndrome.’ 
Who has a crystal ball that can predict how much any single one of us will cost the NHS? 
Many people with Down’s Syndrome enjoy good health (like Freddie, so far).
But there are also many people (who do not have DS) born ostensibly ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ who are later diagnosed with some chronic condition or illness requiring ongoing treatment; or who meet with a life-changing accident. These people also need care that will place a cost on the NHS. Are we to analyse the cost of caring for them and decide what their life is worth in terms of treatment costs? Are we to weigh the lives of dustman and doctor, barista and barrister, in the scales against each other to decide which one is worth the cost of cancer treatment, or insulin injections, or a heart bypass?
And what about those people who will be born with a disability or condition that is not detectable before birth? Should midwives be equipped with a calculator and a pillow, so that they can tot up the likely cost of these imperfect lives and snuff out the ones that will prove expensive?
No, of course that isn’t going to happen. I’m being melodramatic. But to many of the policy-makers, the power-brokers, getting rid of any potentially problematic people before they’re born makes sense. It’s the perfect solution.
So, first they demonise the condition, or the people who have it; the ‘establishment’, the ‘status quo’ (medical profession, politicians, press, etc) use only nuanced language in describing the condition, it’s effects, and those people who have it. Information given out presents only lists of clinical features, possible complications and worst-case-scenario prognoses; people are reduced to mere syndromes, devoid of their humanity. Positive examples are dismissed as flukes. Thus we are persuaded that these less-than-human lives are not worth living, and that it is our responsibility, our duty, to prevent their suffering,and our own, before it begins, and relieve society of an unwelcome burden. 
In the case of learning disability it is only a short step from advocating abortion to advocating euthanasia – once we have been persuaded that such people are less than human, and lack the capacity to reason, to make informed decisions, to understand (none of these assumptions we are lead to make are true, by the way).
At the moment it is only possible to detect certain conditions before a child is born, not all of which are life-limiting. But the medical profession seems intent on eliminating these – abortions, even beyond the limit that would be legal for a ‘healthy’ foetus, have been performed for conditions such as cleft palate which is treatable by surgery. How long before we can detect other things, like Autism, before birth? How long before we can detect genetic tendencies before birth: the tendency to become obese, for instance, or to become addicted to smoking, or to develop certain cancers, and so on – all of which involve the likelihood of greater than average cost in terms of NHS treatment and/or social care? How many of us would never have seen the light of day if this had been possible when we were foetuses?
How do you measure the cost of a life, the value-for-money of a life? What price would they have put on Freddie’s life at 13 weeks gestation, when a 1:12 chance of his having DS was detected. No doubt they would have factored in the probability of a heart defect, or Hirschprung’s disease, hearing problems, on so on (as though he was going to have all of these at once. But no one does have them all. Some don’t have any). 

But how do you reckon up the value of this:

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.*

How is this not Murder?

  

How do I say this?In this country it is not legal to perform an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, because at that point the baby becomes ‘viable’, that is, able to exist outside the womb. BUT if the baby has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, then the law allows abortion up to 39weeks and six days. That’s full term (full term is anything after 37 weeks), a mere ONE DAY before baby’s due date. 

This is my son at just 34 weeks of pregnancy – a few minutes after he was born. He cried loudly straight away, he required no resuscitation or ventilation. He was eager to suckle. He weighed 5lbs 10oz. 

34 weeks. For almost another SIX WEEKS after this point it would have been legal for him to be aborted.

I received a comment the other day to the effect that abortion up to 40 weeks wasn’t murder. How does this person imagine the procedure is done? Do they imagine that the baby is just “removed” or magicked away? Do they perhaps think that labour is induced and the baby conveniently fails to be alive at the end of the process; or no one bothers to put the batteries in?

My labour was induced and my baby was very much ALIVE and VIABLE at the end of it. Yes, even though he indubitably had Down’s Syndrome, he was, I repeat, ALIVE and VIABLE. 

Am I making myself clear?

In order to “abort” a foetus after 24 weeks of pregnancy the death of the baby must be brought about before labour is induced. I don’t know how – I can’t bear to research it. How is this not “murder”?

If a woman is assaulted and her unborn baby dies as a result, then her attacker will be charged with a criminal offence. Her foetus has a right to life, as does any other human being.

I repeat again – the picture here is of a human foetus at 34 weeks gestation. A foetus with Down’s Syndrome.

Am I making myself clear yet?