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Monday, 25 February 2008

Disabled babies, unfounded predictions, and the protection of the weak

Over recent years, I have noticed several cases where people have agreed to, or co-operated with, abortion in response to dire warnings from doctors about a baby who will be born with significant disabilities. The doctors describe these disabilities in the most chilling terms, together with assurances that the baby will not live more than a few hours or days. This has a significant influence on people's attitudes ("What else could we do?") The psychological trauma of being faced with this decision, presented gravely by those who are seen as experts, causes people to repudiate their faith and consider the Church callous and heartless for her opposition to abortion.

Over the same period, I have also come across several cases where a mother (often accompanied by a decent and supportive husband or "partner") has stood firm, refused a "termination" and heroically opted to give birth - only to find subsequently that the predictions turned out to be exaggerated or even wholly false.

A story reported last month by Channel 4 (Joy for mother advised to abort) is typical. Doctors predict: baby will only survive for a few hours, will be "profoundly disabled"; condition deteriorating; advise "termination". Mother and father refuse; go through "absolute torture"; baby is born perfectly healthy; nothing wrong after all. The most inspiring line of the story is where mother Becky Weatherall told the Western Mail newspaper that "if he was going to die, she wanted it to be in the arms of his parents."

There are two questions to raise here. The first is to ask just how common this sort of thing is. I would be interested to know whether research has been done on how accurate are these predictions of disability and whether indeed some are made without sufficient evidence.

The second and deeper question is why the very weakest and most vulnerable children are deemed to be the most unworthy of life. Surely in a civilised society, the weakest should be those afforded the greatest protection by the strong? Remind me: why was it that my father's generation fought the second world war?
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