Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Abort or not


The picture made it to the front page of newspapers. A heart broken expectant mother, weeping as her husband consoles her.

After Niketa and Haresh Mehta's petition to abort their unborn child at 26 weeks was turned down by the Bombay High Court, the debate rages. Should parents have the right to get rid of a life…that at 26 weeks is a little individual?

At 26 weeks, the foetus, around 12 inches from head to toe, and weighing about 450-600 grams, has a normal amount of muscle on the legs and arms and exhibits a whole range of typical baby behaviour and moods, including scratching, smiling, crying, hiccuping and sucking.

It jumps in response to loud sounds and even reacts to bright light aimed at the uterus, indicating optic nerve function. Studies indicate that the foetus can respond to touch at this stage.Developmental neurobiologists say that at 26 weeks, the foetus can feel pain. If the foetus is aborted at this stage, it may feel pain.

How then, can a mother, who harbours the life within her, even imagine wanting to abort the child?

The debate is that the baby “may be” born with a congenital heart problem that will not only decrease the quality of the baby’s life but will also put immense pressure on the parents, emotionally and financially.

But.

Ask couples who do not have a child for known or unknown medical reasons, those who put themselves through the repeated torture of IVF, spend lakhs of rupees trying to have a baby, is it a fair choice to abort a child that “may” be born with a defect? A child that is already more than half its way towards being born? Isn't the risk worth taking?

Is it because the pressure of ‘perfection’ is getting so deeply ingrained in our society that we cannot imagine having a ‘less-than-perfect’ child?

Or are we getting so materialistic that we are worried over a future cost the child may incur on us with respect to its medical bills that we don’t mind aborting it? What would have happened had the child had a healthy birth and developed a medical condition later on? Would the parents have disowned the child?

On the other hand, as parents, who with two perfectly normal and healthy children also succumb to the pressure of raising them, can we condemn the couple who may have to raise a baby that will never be healthy?

Whether we stand on a high moral ground and take a stand or empathise with the mother whose dream of a healthy baby has been shattered, there can be no end to this debate.

I applaud the bravery of parents who nurture, look after and above all, HOPE for their children afflicted with Down’s syndrome, autism and a host of such disabilities. It takes courage and fortitude.


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