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Mainstream, VOL L, No 50, December 1, 2012

‘Pro-Life’ also Means a Mother’s Right to Life

Monday 3 December 2012, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The death of Savita Halappanvar, an Indian dentist in Ireland, due to refusal of abortion by the doctors in Dublin has outraged every human being who loves life. Irish laws prohibit abortion though a 1992 court ruling suggested that it could be permitted if there is ‘real and substantive’ risk to the life of mother. However, this court ruling fell on deaf years as doctors failed to respond to her deteriorating condition which resulted in her untimely death.

Thousands of people protested in front of the Irish parliament as the incident has sparked furious debate among common people the world over and definitely the ‘pro-life’ lobby of the Catholic Church is finding it difficult to respond. The Indian Government rightly asked the Irish ambassador to keep it informed about the latest in this case. However, it is absolutely farcical on the part of the Indian media to overhype the issue as if these things do not happen here. Ireland has national laws and they are under tremendous pressure after this incident. The government has already ordered an inquiry and hopefully the report would be made public.
According to Savita’s father in Belgaum, when her health deteriorated they pleaded with the doctors to save her life and allow abortion. That was the only way to save her. It was not possible for her family to fly her to England (where abortion is not illegal) at the eleventh hour, as her condition was extremely critical. Unfortunately, nothing worked and shockingly a society, which claims to care so much for ‘life’, allowed a person to die without giving her complete treatment.

Ireland is a democratic republic though with a strong Catholic worldview. In fact the Roman Catholic Church is dominant and powerful there, dictates policies to the government and influences public opinion though at the moment it is completely on the defensive. However, it is well known that the Catholic Church’s ‘pro-life’ campaign is getting wider and wider the world over attracting conservatives everywhere. It does not want people to use contraceptives as it believes life is given by ‘God’. This is in full conformity with the views of the Muslim mullahs and Hindu priests; all of them feel that marriage is meant for ‘recreation’ and nothing else.

It was sad to see people defending this medical neglect as John Dayal rightly suggested, even if one may not agree with his argument about life. It is also a fact that for religionists, death in the name of religion does not matter as it’s God’s wish. However, the way the Hindutva ideologues went on condemning this loudly as human rights violation raises many questions about their own commitment to the lives of people. We all know religious groups actually ‘comple-ment’ each other and hence the death of Savita has come handy for the Hindutva protagonists in India though for all practical purposes they would never support the abortion laws.
It was therefore not strange when the BJP spokesperson condemned the incident in Dublin as a cold-blooded murder and human rights violation. How easy it is for the fascists to call each other as fundamentalists without even thinking their own track record on the issue.

THE death of Savita raises serious questions about medical ethics and one hopes it will open up worldwide debate. Can a doctor refuse treatment to a patient if the latter does not belong to the same religion, nationality or caste identity? Medical ethics say that doctors have to treat all the patients even if some of them may be absconding or are in need of investiga-tions. In fact some of the commentators in Ire-land were so disturbed at the refusal of treat-ment to Savita that they openly warned that mixing of medicine with God could be dange-rous. Let these issues be kept separate, they insisted. It is ironical that the pro-life argument does not want to speek about the rights of the mothers too. It is not just the question of a child to be born but the right of a mother too to have good health and enjoy the right to life.

Therefore, for doctors treatment is important and one should not fall prey to the debate over whether God exists or not. Of course, he is nowhere and is absolutely powerless. If he is omnipotent and can do justice to all, then such a situation would not have arisen and we would not have been mourning the untimely death of Savita. 

It is a shame that the ‘believers’ have such great thoughts that justify the killing of human beings in the garb of religious values. Religion today flourishes the world over using science and technology like the electronic media, medical sciences and schools. The Christian missionaries also went around with these practices, starting their hospitals and schools in the poorest areas and we all lauded them for their missionary work but the fact is that they are really not doing this for ‘us’ but for their ‘God’.

The tragic reality is that people the world over were killed in the name of God, Allah, and Bhagwan and still there are people who feel that religious rights should have the ‘respectful’ place. People should now know how those fighting for religious rights often use their sentiments and emotions for their own purposes and have nothing new to offer except claiming miracles from ‘God’ despite the fact that they need hospitals and medical science to carry on the campaign for their ‘God’.
Civilised society allows people the right to choose their life. They also offer the medical option to men and women to decide about their body. Abortion is the right of a woman to protect her life and it is only used in dire circumstances. Nobody would opt for an abortion in a happy state of mind. It is her body and she has a right to secure herself first. There are circumstances when people are forced to do so. The problem with those professing religious rights is that they consider even the use of contraceptives wrong. Perhaps they feel that a man and a woman marry just to create children in the name of God. It would be shocking to think that a man and woman marry just for recreation and any sex without an attempt to recreate is a sin as the church would like us to believe.

The whole stigma to ‘life’ comes from the idea that sex is sin and must be used just for ‘recreation’ purposes which is unacceptable ro the modern human being who feels that recreation or no recreation is an individual’s choice and that state or religion has no right to intrude in one’s private matters. If sex is sin then why do we have cases of rape by the religious priests the world over cutting across all religions? Are our religious places safe for women? What is the Devdasi system? In simple language it is sex without responsibility and accountability by the priestly class. You want to have sex with women but do not want to own the child born out of that sex? Have we seen any system with such hypocrisy?

THE question must be asked: why should ‘right and wrong’ be based on ‘religious’ morality in any secular society? The world is witness to massive killings in the name of religion in the West and does not need to take a lesson from the Westerners about ‘love and affection’. It is also important to raise another query: should a doctor be allowed to kill a person even if the law says so? If a national law violates international law, it is essential that we follow the international law on human rights. We all look forward to an international mechanism when national laws fail. Hence it is desirable that the medical practitioners and their organisations throughout the world widely discuss the issue of medical ethics and formulate special guidelines so that such mishaps are not repeated.

Frankly speaking, this issue is of great importance and hence should not be confined to one particular religion and country. It affects all as religious leaders everywhere misguide people with their pernicious thoughts and are united in such vicious ideas deriving their ‘power’ from supernatural sources. Is it not a tragedy when they want to save a ‘life’ yet do not feel ashamed to kill another life? And shock-ingly, all this is happening when the world is moving forward and opening up new horizons of knowledge and when we all say sex is not just for recreation and when it is proved that it is also a great stress relief as it ensures inti-mate moments with your partner. Secular demo-cratic societies must not allow such religious moralities to intrude in our private space and play havoc with human life. Let us develop human rights laws based on modern principles and not allow the religious moralists to decide our fate; that would be dangerous for any woman who falls in their trap 
anywhere. 

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