Sunday, May 06, 2007

No Words Can Excuse The Terrible Suffering We Are Inflicting On Miss D

Irish Independent Saturday May 5th- Medb Ruane

English is used in the Miss D case, but don't let that fool you. The politest possible words tell how a 17-year-old woman discovers that her much-wanted first pregnancy is blighted by fatal foetal malformation such that if born, the baby can't survive outside the womb.

The language speaks of the HSE whose anonymous officer decides, for some mysterious reason, to stop Miss D travelling for a termination. GardaĆ­, various legal representatives, all speaking good English, take over to debate the awful trap in which Miss D and her boyfriend find themselves, through no fault of their own.

Yet this isn't 'normal'. Miss D's unnecessary suffering would not- and could not- be allowed happen in any civilised society anywhere on this planet. Except our own. The reason this could n't happen is because a termination in cases of foetal malformation is permitted for 74% of the world's population. Ireland, in distinction stands with Nigeria, Tonga, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and others in the minority on this earth who do not allow such a termination in their own countries. Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is more hospitable.

I do not want to hear reasons why anyone should have to give birth to a dead baby with a black macerated face, against their will. I don't want to imagine why a foetus should be enabled, because of a third party's will, to grow in its mother's womb, inseparable from her, only to suffer in pain of being born and dying then or soon after. I don't want to think of a man, standing by helplessly, desperate to make things different. Or force them into a lifetime of remembering.

Let me try to say why. During the last General Election campaign, a couple shared a story with me about what happened when they found themselves expecting their first child after getting everything together, buying a house, settling down. A scan, a dark silence, a sense of shock and then the news no would-be parent expects to hear.

Doctors and nurses expalined that this longed-for baby could not survive outside its mother. The parents questioned them and heard it would start feeling pain the more it grew in the womb because the body was so lethally deformed. The couple was devastated, got second opinions, called every support group on the net. But there was'n't a different opinion and they decide that they could n't continue the pregnancy because they could not endure it.

Yet they wanted to bury the baby in their family plot. That meant bringing the remains home to Ireland after a termination in Britain. Was there no end to the cruelty Ireland's use of language inflicts? The foetus was not old enough to qualify as a dead body so they could n't get a legal permit. That meant, they realised in shock, that they would have to smuggle the remains back into the country.

The man had brought a sports bag, as men do. They placed the the remains in the bag and held their breaths. Days later, back in Ireland, they held a burial service and began to mourn. I wrote this story into the public domain at the time. The woman won my lasting respect by deciding to go on radio to talk about it. She was put against an anti-abortion campaigner because of the need for balance, whatever that might mean in such a situation. Suddenly, she was stripped of her history and cast as a callous, baby killer. Her dignity won that day.

Here we go again, another general election and nothing has changed to ease this unnecessary suffering. Someone in so-called 'authority' thinks it better Miss D, her foetus (and her boyfriend and mother) suffer rather upset the applecart of polite English used to airbrush these issues away. Miss D is actually worrying that it's all her fault because she didn't take folic acid ( please tell her the rates for various malformations are higher in Ireland) because our gene pool was so isolated for so long- it's not her fault).

Fatal foetal malformation is not a slippery slope to abortion on request. You think parents are really going to abort pregnancies because their children aren't perfect? Mother's, especially, don't get pregnant for the pleasure of having a termination.

The way this case is spoken about perverts the English language and gives Irish people a twisted perspective on what is really at stake. But perhaps people are smarter than government politicians think. Attitudes have changed so much that the most recent report showed huge support for termination in circumstances such as this case.

What gall it takes for a Taoiseach- and a Health Minister - to speak for the need for compassion in this case when they have spent 10 years in Government preening themselves for keeping Ireland 'abortion-free', no matter what the circumstances.

Whatever Bertie Ahern did or did'nt do with a bag of money, nineties decor and Celia Larkin, it pales in comparison to the beligerent turning away from suffering that continues for whatever reason.

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