Thursday, August 12, 2004

Abortion law draws defective debate 

Last week, a reader of The Straits Times wrote to the newspaper regarding the fact that it is illegal to abort a baby after 24 weeks of gestation even when the foetus has a defect, unless the foetus cannot live beyond a few days after birth.

He pointed out that there is a 2 percent chance that a baby may be born with a major handicap, and that 100 percent detection is “practically unachievable”.

This means that with the abortion law’s restriction, “parents of babies with defects, such as a physical handicap or Down’s syndrome, are left with no choice when the defect is identified after 24 weeks. The mother would have to carry the pregnancy to full term.”

He asked: “Can we force parents to have a child known to have defects such that he/she will be a major burden? If the parents have no means to support this child, what can they do?”

He urged the “authorities to review the abortion policy”.

Today, The Straits Times published four letters from readers, all supporting the legislation outlawing abortion beyond 24 weeks. All four readers emphasised the value of human life and the potential of even people with disabilities to lead fulfilling lives.

Unfortunately, only one of the readers addressed the original concern: How do we help the parents if they have no means to support the child? She had no answer, other than saying: “We should do all we can to help the parents and families of such special children, both financially and emotionally. Perhaps the authorities can respond to Mr Teo’s question...”

Another reader suggested more compassion in treating these “special children”. Fair enough, except that the compassion needs to be extended to the parents of such children as well. The problem, of course, is that in the real world, compassion is sometimes in short supply and cannot always be relied upon. In the real world, people do suffer for lack of help.

And it’s probably also worth pointing out that mercy killing is usually considered an act of compassion too.

I’m not suggesting that the abortion law needs to be changed. The subject of abortion involves many medical, social and ethical issues and I don’t think I am qualified to deal with all of them. In any case, I'm sure that the law-makers have already considered the relevant issues and leave it to them and others of greater expertise to decide whether a change is desirable.

In the meantime, it is inevitable that other individuals will have their own different perspectives on each of the issue involved, and will emphasise one or other perspective.

What is important is that we don’t get overly emotional, idealistic or dogmatic and shut out other perspectives when arguing our own, as some of these readers appear to have done.


Post a Comment

<< Home