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Abortion – Cruel Or Kind?

Abortion – Cruel Or Kind?

February 04, 2012

Is aborting a child with potential disabilities cruel or kind?



At a recent party, the conversation veered rapidly from brandy and mulled wine to beauty and appearances. Amidst the general cheerful banter, a small group of people were discussing children with severe disabilities, especially the toll it takes on the parents. One guest happened to ask – ‘if parents had prior knowledge about a child’s mental disorder ‘before it is born’, then wouldn’t it be better to simply abort the pregnancy rather than face a lifetime of suffering?’

My first instinct was: If abortions based on children’s disability were to become common, then we tend to become very intolerant as a society.

It is estimated that 6 to 10% of children in India are born disabled. The statistics are only expected to rise.

Take a look at the statistics on this UK website.

‘1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year’

‘About 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time’

If we knew ahead of time, would we simply axe a quarter of the population, or perhaps one tenth of all children?

The above argument is, however, idealistic.

We live in a world where anything less than ‘perfect’ faces some form of social rejection (forget the fact that perfection itself is over-rated and I am yet to come across a ‘perfect’ looking person - who has not had a nose-job or boob-job, that is!). That being the case, children who have severe mental disabilities might just be far more vulnerable than others, with mental illness often being regarded as taboo.

Brace yourself and click this link to get a idea of the wide range of disabilities. They range from physical to mental, and from mild to very severe. They could be very insignificant disabilities, whereas some could greatly hinder a normal life for an innocent child!

As Indians, I believe disability is a STIGMA. This link clearly impacts our thought process. As I see it, the aspects that most influence the decision of abortion are:

1) Social stigma: Ridicule and Rejection.

As I remember it, about two to three decades ago, there was not much awareness of ‘special needs’. Take a simple example - A child wearing thick glasses or a crippled by polio child were often mercilessly teased as ‘blind’ or ‘lame’.

It gets worse as the disability is more severe. Take a child who suffers, say from ADHD. Due to sheer ignorance, the most likely reaction at school would be conferring the label ‘hyperactive’ or ‘wild’ child. Or take the case of an autistic child. The common man is quite likely to reject the child from social circles by branding him or her ‘mentally retarded’. Imagine the enormous social disadvantage.

A lot of research has gone into the spectrum of disabilities and special needs. Unfortunately though, awareness at a common level, is still not adequate. Therefore, a child with severe mental disability is likely to have a really hard time.

Is it kind to allow the child face the ‘big, bad world’?

2) Responsibility or Burden on personal resources.

We don’t quite have the concept of social protection or support in India. Unlike countries such the UK, where the state provides tremendous amount of support (carers, financial arrangements, free special needs schools, etc.) In India, health/education and social care needs are entirely the responsibility of parents and immediate family. The red flag here is: When will the primary (and perhaps, sole!) carer snap? There is a very delicate line differentiating ‘responsibility’ from ‘burden’. After all, carers are human too.

3) The great Karmic circle Guilt!

While abortion is often considered a crime, we often add the Karmic dimension to it, and make it a ‘sinful act’.

Apparently, abortion is legal in UK if the child is ‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’.

Abortion is legal in India too, under certain specific medical circumstances. However, the concept of ‘sin’ attached to abortion results in the feeling of guilt.

Now, the big question:

What is cruel and what is kind? Is aborting a severely disabled child cruel and heartless? Or is it simply an act of kindness to rescue a child from a life of hardship?

What do you think?

Photo credit: Reuters 

27 Comments

  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    18.05.12 02:41 PM
    @ Alexis,

    I understand where you are coming from, but the context of this post is SEVERE MENTAL DISABILITY, and not relatively immaterial issues like the colour of skin.

    For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a severely mentally retarded child, unable to interact with your family, unable to perform your basic functions (starting from the toilet!) and living at the mercy of a carer, or being confined to a mental institution.

    Do you really think that is 'kindness'?

    I know one such child. She's adorable :-) I love playing with her. I love it when she rewards me with a hug. On my lucky day, even a kiss!!

    But every single time I look at her, my heart sinks. At the thought of HER future. The child cannot speak. Does not respond to words. Cannot even walk straight without falling down a couple of times.

    I cannot imagine the pain and anxiety of the mother.

    I fear for the child. For the sake of that child, I wish the parents could have known beforehand, and had the option of choosing whether to bring the child into the world or not.

    It is easy to be politically correct, Alexis. I could easily write an essay about how abortion is BAD.

    But what we need is some honest introspection!!!

    Perhaps you could talk to a couple of families that are living with/looking after a severely retarded child, and see for yourself.

    And if you still think that bringing such a child into this world is kind, then Kudos!
  • Alexis
    By
    Alexis
    18.05.12 01:06 AM
    This post is the most ridiculous piece of hackery I've read in recent times.
    So an abortion for a child with disabilities is actually a gesture of kindness towards that child, ehhh ???

    Wow, so pray tell, where do these kind gestures stop? Having dark skin is also a major disadvantage (disability?) in Indian society, the child (especially if a girl) has to face lifelong ostracizing from friends and family, not to mention in the arranged marriage market, so wouldn't it be also kind to abort such a child, by your logic ?

    Being lower caste is a definite drawback in India, most lower caste people go about trying to hide their castes (except in public sector jobs) and change their last names, etc, so by your logic all lower caste people should just abort their offsprings, and spare them a life of ridicule, ostracizing, and hardship... Where does this stop ??? Isn't this totally subjective???

    Also, how about the fact that one may abort a child considering it's disabilities, and then a few years down the line, a huge medical breakthrough is achieved which can provide a much better quality a life for the people suffering with the kind of disability that someone aborted their kid for ??? Isn't that such a terrible cruelty to the kid, to not even being given a fair chance to compete and survive in the world, that they are judged unworthy of even being born in this world, by something beyond their control (like color of skin or caste of birth, etc)...
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    24.02.12 09:15 PM
    Suspended: Consultant Prabha Sivaraman booked a patient in for an abortion under instructions that 'no questions were asked'

    The name suggests she has some Indian connection? If it were so I won't be surprised.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2105665/Doctors-suspended-furore-abortion-gender.html

    Rajpriya
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    08.02.12 11:14 AM
    @Pallavi,

    Germans are quite generous contrary to the general belief. Most German children leave their parent’s home in their teens. The parents with their children no longer dependent get involved in numerous ways in helping the society and in funding various charitable projects. I know many Germans from our area support children in Kerala and Tamil Nadu through many catholic priests who come from there to Germany sponsored by Vatican.

    In the early 80’s it is through Caritas in a city close to my home in Germany that I first came to know about this orphanage in Sri Lanka. I don’t know exactly which year but it may have been in ’81 or ’82. As you say wired money disappears into organizations and you never get to see how your money has been beneficial to children to better their lives. It was for this reason I travelled to Sri Lanka.

    On the day I visited this orphanage all the beds were pushed to one side in a large hall and the children aged around 5 to 10 years (the majority were girls) were busy wiping the wet floor dry. When I inquired if that was a daily job they had to do, the nun said no. Because of heavy rain the previous night water had leaked through holes on the roof. Of course for an orphanage depending mostly on donations with no proper cash flow it was a capital expenditure they could not afford instantly.

    I discussed the issue with the nun in Charge. Wasting no time then ran back to the city: spoke to a building contractor friend, arranged the roof to be fixed within a few days. My contractor friend did the whole job at cost price of material which I paid and as part of his donation took no labor charges.

    I knew where exactly the money went and it stopped those little darlings from wiping the floors on their knees. I could not help imagining that one of them could have been my own daughter reborn.

    I have planned a trip this Dec. to this orphanage with my granddaughter Aysh 5+ and grandson almost 3, my son and daughter in law. Knowing that they will be visiting children with out parents the kids have started collecting gifts already.

    Yes! I will the carry the pains of losing my daughter to my grave. May be I was an odd Indian who wanted my baby girl to live or was it God’s intention to induce me to make many children happy instead of just my own? I was never keen about an answer at anytime.

    I was not posting an article about it on NRI because the children are not from India. But in the near future I will be involved with the Choolaimedu slum in Chennai after reading an article in the Epressbuzz titled “All work and no play for these Girls” last June.

    I visited the Jaigopal Garodia Government Girls' Higher Secondary School, Choolaimedu, Chennai last December to discuss ways and means of relieving some girls who need to work at homes as domestic aids very early in the morning before going to school.

    I know I will earn the wrath of those people who employ them but many of the children need a childhood and not cheap laboring.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    08.02.12 02:07 AM
    @ Rajpriya,

    Hats off to Vijay... (and also to yourself!). I wasn't aware that his foundation does so much!! I think there are lots of people 'wanting' to help, and there are numerous people who 'need' help, however, unfortunately, the gap between the two is quite huge.

    For eg., NRIs can typically contribute money and not presence. However, very often (even out of personal experience), we notice that once the money has been wired, it almost disappears! You never get to see or know how (if at all) it benefited the sponsored children!

    Thank you for sharing the link about the Vijay foundation, I would certainly take a closer and keener look at it.

    (Also, sorry to hear about your baby...though it was long ago, I am sure the pain still persists)
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 11:39 PM
    @Pallavi.

    I know anything is not easy in India. In fact my wife pointed at Vijay Amritraj seated at Express Avenue food court Chennai last December. I have never seen before in person. I shouted Vijay from behind a barrier and he walked up to us with a smiling face and greeted us.

    I also came to know that he is the son in law of a former managing Director of a popular Tamil Daily newspaper owned by my former Boss' family who are also my family's friends into a third generation.

    Two days later we were taking the Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Chennai to Colombo and I could not believe my eyes when Vijay walked with his two sons Prakash and Vikram. During the course of our conversation I learned about the http://vijayamritrajfoundation.org/ and the number of funded charities http://www.vijayamritrajfoundation.org/charities.html.

    I would meet him in Chennai on my next visit to discuss how I could collect some funds in Germany for the children’s part of his foundation. I was so happy I met him at all so that I could at last get involved in supporting children in Tamil Nadu where I was born.

    I am now retired but actively involved in consultation work in five countries USA, UK, Germany, China and India. I have all the time to help wherever I can. I do charity in the name of my daughter who died prematurely born long ago. The only sad side to my life.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    07.02.12 10:45 PM
    @ Rajpriya,

    Kudos to you for your contribution to society. I will look up both the links you have shared.

    But coming to the fate of the children, not all are lucky to benefit from such programmes and causes. I am also involved in supporting a child that is mentally retarded. The sad fact is, despite getting funds, parents refuse to send the child thinking there is 'no point' and that it is not 'worth the effort'. Imagine the plight of that child !!!

    If there was a proper, continuous and robust support system that is built into state-funded infrastructure, then perhaps parents of such children will feel more secure. However, in its absence, and in the face of severe hardships, both parent and child suffer beyond what words can describe.

    In that particular child's case (as in the case of many many other such unfortunate children), I personally think she was better off 'not' being born in the world, rather than just be thrown and left to languish in a dark corner of the world.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 09:20 PM
    @Pallavi,

    I think you should to know how they help disabled people of all ages in Germany. Just read about them on facebook. This is a huge organization represented in almost all parts of Germany.
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lebenshilfe-Deutschland/275967685750972?v=info

    There is one Mr. Kannan from Chennai who was in Germany years ago. I know him very closely. He learned to manage disabled people in Germany and started an organization in Chennai with German Lebenshilfe assistance. Next time if you are in Chennai and you have the time visit him.

    The website http://www.lifehelpcentre.com/contactus.htm

    The German Lebenshilfe, Indien Hilfswerk is in Heinsberg Germany. Supports the organization in Chennai financially. This place is very close to where I live and I know almost every one there.

    I am involved in supporting an orphanage mostly for unwanted disabled (abandoned) children in Sri Lanka run by catholic nuns. At Christmas time every year I visit them to give them a bonus I save all year long. On my request they keep my name anonymous because I don’t do it for publicity. But I know those children love to see me as much as my own grandchildren who have everything.

    I wish I had the money to help more people. I was able to get my boss in South Yorkshire UK, company Jennings-Dar to donate £50,000, - for the welfare of children who became orphaned after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka on Boxing Day 2004.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 08:03 PM
    @Anna,

    I know Hitler would have said the same thing to me that it is really none of my business and I would have had no other option but to shut up otherwise I would have suffered the same fate as the others who opposed his views.

    You say six million female children have been aborted in the last ten years. That’s a record not easy for any other country to beat. If there is no other way go ahead I won’t make it my business.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    07.02.12 04:20 PM
    @ Rajpriya,

    I think we are all on the same platform, when we talk about keeping the best interests of the child in mind.

    The 'we' and 'them' that you are referring to is strictly restricted to 'we' meaning 'parents of the unborn child' and 'them' meaning the 'unborn child with potential severe disablity'. Definitely not society or a third person.

    Therefore it is not similar to Hitler destroying the weak. It is about perhaps 'the' most difficult decision that a parent is faced with.

    In retrospect, I should have edited the post to clearly say 'What would 'YOU' (the reader) do in such a situation?' That is, if 'you' were faced with such a difficult decision .. what would you deem right, in the best interest of the child and yourself (as the primary carer)?
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    07.02.12 04:09 PM
    @ Anna:
    Thank you, you are right in saying caring for a disabled person is not a piece of cake. Seen this first-hand, and the daily stress cannot be described in words. Add to it, the constant worry of the parents, about the future of the dependent child 'after' them.
  • Anna
    By
    Anna
    07.02.12 01:39 PM
    @rajpriya
    Disabled people having children equals pollution???quite frankly its the disabled persons choice if they want kids or not and its definitly not a pollution. So you want to be asked before drug addicts smokers and the rest procreate and then either benevolenlt give your ok or withhold it? Thats actually quite like Hitler asking his officers to submit pictures of their fiances in bathing suits to then give his ok to the marriage and withhold it.
    To have an abortion or not is business of the parents and not yours. You wont be affected by the decision wheras they will. Therefore your say has very little weight.
    I wouldnt be so suprised if in a few years people will be going gattaka and asking for dna analysis before marrying people, which IMO is wrong.but even this will not assure that absolutly no disabled kid will be concieved.
    The healthy people that will become disabled are not treated any better than the born ones. In worst cases they will be made to believe it was their fault that it happend. Again how is this related to aborting? Its not at all, and they are not a burden to YOU but rather their families because society which you would be part is doing close to nothing to aid them but rather showing some pity and swiflty moving on. So how do they burden you? Offend your eyes? Again ur last para just shows ur jumbling of different concepts. Hitler didnt invent euthenasia nor did the allies go to war with him about euthenasia. So arguing by this is just ridiculous. Abortion is not euthenasia. Do i have to spell it out? Euthenasia requires EVERYONE that dosent fit certain (as I find quite subjective) categories need be killed or sterelized, in the case being discussed here people are given a CHOICE if they can deal with it or not. Noone is REQUIRED to kill anyone. And as long as noone here puts their money and actions where their mouth is and strives to make a change for better loving conditions, schooling treatment and the like, you have absolulty nothing to say what the lives of other people should be like.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 10:21 AM
    @Anna

    Yes! I think parents should take decisions. But not about ending a child’s life that they think is unworthy of living because of the child’s inability to live with out dependence or because the child will be a financial burden for the rest of his or her life.

    Are we living in an ideal world? Should it not be the concern of the parents to know if they do have any inherited history of genetic disorder in them that would result in disabled children being born to them? Should it not be the concern of every prospective father and mother to know if they could have children with out disabilities?

    There is no restriction on drug addicts, alcoholics, and heavy smokers, sick and even disabled people having children. There is so much of pollution on this earth that makes living difficult even for normal people.

    There are many ways even normal and healthy people of all ages could become disabled due to accidents, natural catastrophes or whatever. Are we going to put them all to sleep because they become a burden to the rest of us?

    Or does any one think that the allied forces should not have stopped Hitler who was dreaming of an ideal world full of beautiful and healthy people? Hitler believed that the extermination of the weak and sick is far more humane than their protection.

    Hitler saw a purpose in destroying the weak to provide the proper space and purity for the strong. How many of us would dare say he was spot on?
  • Anna
    By
    Anna
    06.02.12 11:58 PM
    I would believe that not strangers but the parents should take the decisons. Girls are already getting aborted, the figure is six million in the past ten years. Anyhow care of a disabled person is no piece of cake and what some people dont understand this commitment to the kid dosent end when its 18 or 25 but parents will be required to take as much and intensive care with this person when its 40 as with say a 2 year old. Normally the older the child gets the more it can do on its own and it can then help the parents. This is not the case with special need children. So its an immense occupation. Also society is more leaned to ridiculing then helping special needs people. The pareents also have to worry that if they die before the child will it be taken care of properly or abused and ridiculed because it lacks the self defense. So instead of screaming abortion is so bad, try creating an enviroment of helping and accepting these children. Join or found special needs children and adult
    support network in. Your area.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    05.02.12 03:11 PM
    @ Rajpriya,

    Thank you, both the articles were thought-provoking and informative. I had not heard of prenatal genetic testing - until now, that is. Yes, it will certainly make a difference!

    The pro-life debate is a heated one..and I guess there is no 'one way' about it, because it is a highly subjective and personal decision.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    05.02.12 10:39 AM
    Here are two interesting articles that relates to the subject of disabled people of all ages.
    Cn unborn can be invisible victims?

    Nazi extermination of thousands of disabled children featured in New Berlin museum exhibit

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/nazi-extermination-of-thousands-of-disabled-children-featured-in-new-berlin

    Who Decides There's No Hope?: Euthanasia and Disabilities

    http://specialchildren.about.com/od/medicalissues/i/euthanasia.htm
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    05.02.12 07:03 AM
    I have heard of prenatal genetic testing. If there were possibilities to plan a pregnancy by prenatal genetic testing before a woman is pregnant to test if there is a risk of birth defects if she were to have a child would almost solve half the problem. Most genetic disorders in children are inherited as far I have learned.

    If by any chance genetic disorders in parents could be treated and cured then things could be different.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    05.02.12 05:30 AM
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    05.02.12 05:24 AM
    Harry,

    I certainly see your point, and quite frankly, this is something I have thought about too, while writing the post.

    The same issue came up during discussions with several of my blogger friends as well. While almost all of us agreed that it is not right to kill a child that is already born, if there is an option of sparing an unborn child the agony and trauma of living in a cruel world, then why not consider it as a possibility?

    Harry, this is a hypothetical situation, where I am strictly referring to a unborn child with a medically proven severe disability, that would hinder the child from performing even basic functions independently.

    This is a very subjective topic, don't you think? Throw in some practical aspects of infrastructure, capabilities, logistics.. and this does not remain a question of 'morally right' or 'morally wrong'.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    05.02.12 01:28 AM
    Hi PALLAVI

    What would you do say for example somebody became disabled afterward. should we kill them because we can't care for them. Is killing justified at any stage or place because you feel that it is right thing / kind thing to do.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    05.02.12 12:50 AM
    @ Harry,
    Thank you for taking the time out (as always) and explaining your viewpoint.

    Harry, I clearly do not support abortion when parents have just been frivolous or irresponsible. I said exactly the same thing in my post, in the first few lines. 'If we knew ahead of time, would we simply axe a quarter of the population, or perhaps one tenth of all children?' But that was my initial reaction. But think about very SEVERELY DISABLED kids. In most cases, atleast in India, we do not and CANNOT depend on the Government for the best support. It is entirely upto the families to look after such a child. And if there is a family who cannot do so for whatever reasons, then they should be allowed the choice, BASED ON MEDICAL GROUNDS.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    05.02.12 12:46 AM
    @ Satish:
    Thank you. It is indeed heart-warming to hear of stories like that!

    @ Shirish:
    Thank you, but I am very much Indian too and certainly not far from ground reality.

    I have seen (and am still witness to) near and dear families struggle with children who are so severely disabled that they are completely shunned by society.
    Ofcourse research is necessary. Infact in my post, you would have noticed I said, my FIRST reaction to the subject was very much like yours. However, think it over deeply, and if you could PUT YOURSELF IN the shoes of such a parent, I wonder if your opinion would remain the same. If it does, then Kudos to you. If it does not, then I, for one, will not judge you!
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    05.02.12 12:13 AM
    Hi PALLAVI

    First, anything involved in killing, is not kind, because nature would not have given chance to it in the first place. This is not new to us, but also has happened in the past as well.

    Our society / culture treats women as a second class citizen, as Shirish said if given chance, they would kill all girls in our country, as they are seen financial liabilities, same as a disable child. Before you say, you support abortion, think about what I said just now.

    It is good that we can tell certain things with the machines. But if we decide the future of another human being, on who lives, and who dies on that basis, than we are no different from Hitler, who believed in blue eyes and blonde hair as a perfect human being.

    The way we live is also at question, because we eat lots of processed food, and drink variety of things, and do (smoke) other thing that are not meant to be good for us, and our future generation, but we still do, and if we carry on in the same direction, then we as human race will have more then half the population will be born in the future with disibilities. If this are the stats acording to the science, then, should we kill half the population in the world?

    What makes us civilised, is not our wealth or science or our things, but it's our abilities to tell right from wrong, and making the right choice on that basis, forget about being cruel or kind, because that's not up to a good human being to decide, and the day you have to, then that day you no longer remain as a good human being.

    If we kill half of african population by being kind and half of the asians and the remainder of all the poors, who can't feed them self, and the others, then our world problem is solved, but will it make as civilised ? I don't think so. So before you say yes to abortion, think about all this.

    I think from this you can tell what I support.

    HARRY
  • Cameron
    By
    Cameron
    04.02.12 09:18 PM
    Shirish,

    Amen!!!

    I could not agree with you more. Thanks for stating it so simply and honestly!
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    04.02.12 06:06 PM
    Ms Pallavi ,probably you have settled down in U.K.don't know the ground realities in India.It is such a weird country where female child itself is considered as a disability and aborted gleefully.What we require more is not abortions but sensitive society and research in how the defective genes are corrected before the child is born.
  • satish
    By
    satish
    04.02.12 06:48 AM
    Excellent topic and post. Many years ago I read a real-life story on the subject in RD where a GP assisting childbirth (those were the days!) in rural England overcomes his qualms and let an 'imperfect' baby be born. Many years later when the GP's daughter is diagnosed with a rare disease it turns out that the only Doctor in U.K. specialized in that disease was that 'compromised child.

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