Monday, February 25, 2008

On a recent French law regarding foetuses

I was suddenly transported to a singular turn of events that took place three years ago on reading a French news article recently. It was New Year's Eve and as we were making plans for the evening when we received news that one of our friends had given birth. From what we could remember of the expected delivery dates, the announcement seemed premature. A second later we heard that our friend had given birth to a stillborn, lifeless foetus. I remember my wife and me driving out immediately wanting to spend time with our friend on that sad day. We remember a long drive Midwest on a bitterly cold December 31st day. We reached the hospital after a eleven hour journey. After perfunctory greetings with the family that tend to awkwardness under these circumstances, we met her and she told us to take a look at her baby. This struck me as a little odd as I was assuming that a five month old lifeless foetus would probably be assigned to the hospital services. What struck me even more was the fact that the foetus was swaddled tightly and outwardly appeared to be merely resting - when in reality it was lifeless tissue. I felt a mixture of pain, anxiety and frustration at not being able to appreciate the situation clearly. It was also readily apparent that she had named the foetus and was planning on a funeral.
The bond between a mother and child is a strange one - something that transcends normal human connections - it blends together our animal instincts with human sentiments into a seamless continuum. From our friend’s perspective, a real death had taken place and we were expected to feel as sad for the foetus as we feel for her. From my perspective, a non-viable foetus was aborted and it was only the mother needed comforting.

It is also the reason we find it difficult to take sides in the gathering clouds that are sure to darken a recent French Supreme court statement which ruled that miscarried and stillborn babies can have a name registered by the government - regardless of the stage of their development.

The court upheld a suit filed by three plaintiffs who had miscarriages between the 18th and 22nd week of pregnancy, with foetuse’s weighing between 155 and 400 grammes (5.5 and 14 ounces), but had been barred from registering a name with the authorities. Until now, French officials have insisted that only foetuses that have developed beyond the 22nd week or weigh more than 550g (1.1 pounds), or have been certified by a doctor as having briefly lived, have the right to have a name registered. The finding had been sought for years by campaigners, who said that by getting the legal right to name the foetus, grieving would-be parents could come to terms with their loss. It also enables the mother of the foetus to claim maternity leave and parents to recover the body to hold a funeral. Before foetus were incinerated by the hospital along with waste tissues.

It is indeed a conflicted position for someone who believes in abortion rights for women but has also been through an experience where a close family friend goes through the ordeal of losing what might have been a viable human being.
France authorized abortion in 1975 and the right to the same is vigorously defended by the citizenry. Last month, I had read about the celebrations (and debate) accompanying the 30th anniversary of the passing of the law. With this new twist, it will be interesting to see how the ripples play out in the rest of Europe and its wider repercussions here in America.
It is easy to proclaim that there needs to be a law about these things and we should let the courts decide on definitions of viability. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be objective when it involves an aspect that intersects rights, emotions and life. I see the abortion debate being played for partisan as well as non-partisan ends for many more years; if not centuries.

Our friend was subsequently blessed with a newborn baby a year after the incident described above.

Francois-Xavier Fabre (French, 1766 - 1837), 'Portrait of Edgar Clarke, full length, in a white dress, carrying a basket of flowers, in a forest', Oil on canvas, 57" X 39", 1802


Sujith said...

This post just got me thinking, life is a gift that only some people realise. This post will sure have all those readers take a moment and think.

Sindhu Gangadharan said...

Yes i definitely agree with Suji chettan that this post definitely get you thinking and also make you run to your near ones and hold them so tight to you that they can never go away from you...but what you also realise is never to take anything that you already have for granted...