In late November 2011 it emerged that doctors at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital had tried to abort a 32-week old foetus who had been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. The child was a boy, who was a twin to another boy. However, the doctors mistakenly aborted the healthy boy, and then aborted the boy with the heart problems. Naturally enough, the parents and the hospital staff were greatly grieved, with one newspaper report describing the ultrasound clinician as ‘inconsolable’. Predictably, bureaucrats at the hospital were reluctant to talk on the matter, as were officials from the Department of Health.
We might be tempted to blame all this on the Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008 which decriminalised abortion in Victoria, right up to the time of birth. Health practitioners who have conscientious objections to providing abortion information to patients were ordered to refer any woman seeking an abortion to another doctor who did not object to such a procedure. Never one to be satisfied with possible glimmers of a pro-life stance, the Green Left Weekly on 20 September 2008 lamented that there could be possible question marks over abortions carried out after 24 weeks of pregnancy. As it has turned out, it need not have been concerned. It is clear that neither political nor health authorities have the necessary will to defend the unborn child. No doubt there are political issues associated with the Victorian tragedy, but back in January of the year 2000 a woman who was eight months pregnant presented herself at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, and asked for an abortion. She was distressed after having just learnt that her unborn baby was going to be born a dwarf. The woman got her wish, and the baby was terminated, as they say. There was some sort of controversy after this, but an ethics committee did what it was supposed to do a few months later, and issued an interim report which assured all and sundry that the medical staff had acted in good faith. That, apparently, is meant to be consoling.
Going back to the twin tragedy of 2011, there was much concern expressed at what had happened, but most of it was misplaced. Had the correct child been aborted, it would not have been deemed newsworthy. It was the mistake that made the headlines, not the deed. Many people took the high moral ground of saying that the parents should receive all comfort possible in their grief. True enough, but the fact remains that this came about because a healthy child is deemed worthy of life and a possibly unhealthy child was not so deemed. There is no right to life now, only the privilege of being wanted. Until this evil in the public psyche is confronted and challenged, the lives of unborn children will rest solely on the precarious ground of wantedness. In the end, what took place at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital was not so much a tragedy that happened but an evil that was perpetrated.
– Rev. Dr Peter Barnes