A Window on the Womb
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AUSTRALIA
ADVANCED prenatal tests make it possible nowadays for doctors to diagnose with increasing accuracy many impairments, physical or mental, an unborn child may have. Ultrasound and amniocentesis are among the more popular tools used.
Ultrasound is a noninvasive procedure that uses inaudible high-frequency sound waves to form a computerized image of the baby in the womb. Amniocentesis involves taking by syringe a sample of amniotic fluid, the fluid in which the baby is suspended in the womb, and testing it for the chemical markers of fetal defects, such as Down’s syndrome.
Lobbed into society like a boulder into a pond, this kind of medical technology, in conjunction with selective abortion, is causing some big waves in the waters of medical ethics.* Unfortunately, this world’s value system is not a stable platform on which to resolve moral and ethical issues and seems more like a disoriented raft awash in pounding surf.
Selective abortion, abetted by technology, is racing ahead of law reform in some lands. In 13 surveys conducted in the United States during a recent 15-year period, a consistent 75 to 78 percent of respondents believed that a pregnant woman should have the legal right to abort a baby that gives strong indications of being seriously defective. In some lands “predicted disability” is enough in itself to allow abortion.
In Australia recently, a mother successfully sued her doctor for damages because early in her pregnancy, he had failed to diagnose rubella (German measles). This sickness, when contracted early in pregnancy, can lead to serious deformities in the unborn. The mother claimed that her doctor’s failure robbed her of the opportunity to abort her baby.
In commenting on the legal and ethical ramifications of this case, legal researcher Jennifer Fitzgerald, in an article in the Queensland Law Society Journal of April 1995, said: “Not only does she [the pregnant woman] need to decide, ‘Do I want to have a child?’, she must also decide, ‘What kind of child do I want?’” But what disability, Fitzgerald asks, provides sufficient grounds for legal abortion? “A hare lip, a cleft palate, a turned eye, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida?” In some parts of the world, it is the child’s sex, especially if it is female!
“Untouchables” in the Womb?
As the human genome unfolds before scientists and the window on the womb becomes, in effect, a microscope on the womb, how will the unborn fare? Will those with lesser defects be singled out for elimination? Indeed, the trend in recent decades is moving toward more abortions, not fewer. Confronted by this towering swell and the froth of litigation in its wake—such as the case mentioned earlier—doctors are concerned. Understandably, this could drive them to an even more defensive approach to medicine, such as calling for certain tests not so much for the sake of mother and baby but to protect themselves. Fitzgerald writes that as a consequence, “the number of pre-natal tests is likely to increase and, therefore, the number of selective abortions.” This, she adds, would introduce “a quasi-caste system in which the ‘untouchables’ become the ‘expendables.’”
And what if a mother gives birth to a disabled child when she was given every opportunity—and was maybe even encouraged—to abort it? “Perhaps a time will come,” says Fitzgerald, “when parents will be told that they cannot expect support in meeting the needs of their children with disability because they chose to have the child when they could have had it aborted.”
Not to be overlooked is the message selective abortion conveys to disabled persons in our communities. When a society does away with the unborn because of defects, will it make disabled persons feel like more of a burden on others? Will it make it harder for them to cope with the negative image they may already have of themselves?
That modern society would discard unborn children as workers discard defective parts on a production line fits the personality profile the Bible paints of people living in “the last days” of this wicked world. It foretold that on a grand scale, people would lack “natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) The Greek word aʹstor·goi, translated “having no natural affection,” refers to the natural bond family members have for one another, such as the love a mother has for her children.
“Tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching,” the rudderless people of this world certainly present a sharp contrast to those who follow the sure Word of God. (Ephesians 4:14) Like an anchor for the soul, the Bible holds us morally firm and steady in stormy seas. (Compare Hebrews 6:19.) Thus, while Christians recognize that a woman might spontaneously expel a severely malformed embryo or fetus, the very thought of peering into the womb to see if a baby is healthy enough to keep is utterly repugnant to them.*—Compare Exodus 21:22, 23.
Cementing a Christian’s resolve to keep integrity is God’s promise of a time when “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24; 35:5, 6) Yes, in spite of present difficulties for the disabled and the sacrifices made by those caring for them, “it will turn out well with those fearing the true God.”—Ecclesiastes 8:12.
Selective abortion is the practice of aborting a baby because it does not have the characteristics the parent (or parents) want.
This, of course, does not mean it would be improper for a Christian to undergo tests to determine the health of an unborn baby. There may be a number of Scripturally acceptable medical reasons why a physician would recommend such a course. Nevertheless, some tests could involve risks to the baby, so it would be wise to talk to the doctor about these. Subsequent to such tests, if the child is found to have serious defects, Christian parents may in some lands be subjected to pressure to abort the baby. It would be wise to be prepared to stand by Bible principles.