Moral madness of Melbourne abortion horror


Abortion mix-up storyWhen it comes to grasping the right to life of any unborn or even unconceived living being, we are a dramatically split society. We celebrate conception, and, with compassion for the infertile, support IVF programs. We also sanction, at a conservative estimate, 80,000 terminations a year.

This dichotomy was tragically brought home by the ghastly medical error that occurred last week at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital. A decision was made to terminate, at 32 weeks gestation, one unborn twin, who was diagnosed with congenital heart problems. In a horror medical error, the 'wrong' (healthy) twin was killed. An emergency caesarian was then performed to terminate the surviving twin.

This case is troubling, and the trauma and grief to all involved must arouse our empathy. We may also ask why a decision would be made at such a late stage of gestation to terminate a foetus.

The event highlights the extent to which medical advances allow us to decide who shall live and who shall die; who we shall mourn and who we shall discount. On what basis do we decide? Do we need to re-examine our views and values regarding the taking, denying or promoting of new life?

Late term abortions present us with a particularly shocking paradox. At 23 weeks we may place a premature newborn in intensive care to fight for its life, or terminate another foetus who may indeed have survived to full term.

These decisions are made not only in consideration of health or emotional needs, but are influenced by socio-economic factors, social constraints and many other pressures and medical possibilities, including the rejection of disability.

The debate about abortion has reflected another split. On one side are those who champion the mother's right to choose. On the other are those who elevate the rights of the child.

Leslie Cannold, president of Pro Choice Victoria, and Margaret Tighe, veteran founder of Right to Life Victoria, personify these opposing positions. Cannold argues unflinchingly in favour of the pregnant woman's right to choose. Tighe argues on behalf of the unborn child, declaring that we must protect the rights of the vulnerable unborn above all other considerations.

The community vacillates between these views and often practices a form of denial. 'We' (society), by attitude and by law, discount the 'equality' of the unborn. We make it a lesser entity.

Ending a pregnancy becomes a 'decision', rather than an almost insoluble dilemma between two opposed sets of rights: those belonging to the already-born, especially the mother, and those of the voiceless unborn being.

In my view we can only come close to an authentic place in this moral quagmire by affording equal rights to the foetus.

Many will be horrified and see this as a promotion of the old order, of the enslavement of women to the birth-life cycle. But to say we should award human rights to the foetus is not to say we may not sometimes decide in favour of termination. However we must afford the foetus the right to be heard.

It is especially true for a foetus that could survive outside the uterus, albeit with medical intervention. If our decision rests on pretending that the unborn child is just a cluster of cells, or that some can be deemed fit and others unfit for life, we run the risk of a kind of moral madness.

I am not writing this from lofty heights. I had an abortion at age 30, which I deeply regret. The prevailing wisdom was that this was not a person, and that to have a baby in adverse circumstances was irresponsible. Had my unborn child been given the status of an equal being I may have been able to make a different choice.

It is time that we face up to the inconvenient truth and grant rights to the unborn. This may be the last unexplored frontier in the implementation of human rights. 

Lyn BenderLyn Bender is a Psychologist and a former member of the Suicide Prevention Australia Board. 


Topic tags: Lyn Bender, abortion



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That's a rare honest piece about abortion. Thanks to Lyn for quiet blunt honesty. Speaking from a country where a million kids get murdered every year (let's use real words; isn't that what we say of innocent people who are killed on purpose?), and speaking, I know, as a man who has not grappled with this himself...still, abortion is murder; someone dies. To say that isn't so is just silly. But we allow murder in lots of forms, like wars and executions. So the discussion isn’t when life begins, but under what circumstances it’s okay to kill kids. Is that okay sometimes? Well, then. Is that not okay no matter what? Well, then. It's interesting to me in my country how often people rail aginst abortion but don't seem to cre when kids die after they're born.

Brian Doyle | 01 December 2011  

This is a brave statement, Lyn, made more powerful by your personal experience. I fully support it. Thank you for your courage.

Patricia Taylor | 01 December 2011  

Dear Lyn
Sincere thanks for your reflection. I was troubled by the headlines last week and you have put a true perspective to them, and I'm assuming, to those of many others.
Rights for the unborn can only be discussed and decided on in the context of us adults choosing or making ourselves available to be parents. By this I mean, the act of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman (or even the IVF processes for that matter) must always include the recognition that by choosing to make love there is the openness to making life.
And we care for life and live by caring for life.

My prayers and feelings are with the parents of the dead twins, as well as the medical staff. I'm not going to discuss this particular case in any way that would increase their personal grief, anguish etc But I want to discuss it in terms of caring for life, all life. Thanks again for showing me the way.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 01 December 2011  

The other overlooked issue? Well, the same people who made the error in terminating the wrong foetus assessed the severity of the heart disease in the doomed one. Fallibility is real in any human system. Painful enough, but to propose death (especially at 32 weeks!)on the basis of such human assessments seems to arrogantly deny fallibiity. Even if they were correct in this assessment of the severity of the disease, the episode tells us they won't always be.

Michael Montalto | 01 December 2011  

These questions and many others are not helped by the language of human rights. By disguising questions of righteousness as a question of whose rights prevail we enter a moral vacuum. Read the beginning of MacIntyre's "After Virtue".

Peter Sellick | 01 December 2011  

Thank you to Lyn for articulating so well what many of us are feeling about this awful incident. Thanks are due to Mick McAndrew as well for his honesty and sensitivity. If more senior clergy were able to say "Thanks again for showing me the way", we might get back to the kind of Church envisaged by Jesus.

Peter Downie | 01 December 2011  

I wish you weren't so free with using the word "we", because that includes me. And I have no intention of prescribing what those parents should do, or what the professionals at Royal Women's should do. Their decisions were intensely personal and should have been left there; the real villains in this case are the gutter press who thought the story worth a front page.

And Brian, the article is not about kids. For goodness sake, you know better than that.

Frank | 01 December 2011  

'The prevailing wisdom that this (the foetus) was not a human being..." has been the justification for abortion for those in favour of choice. Such an argument is immediately self-defeating in so much as abortion exists only because the foetus is a human being in the very earliest phase of life. Everyone knows that the INEVITABILITY of tne developing foetus is life.Therein resides the demand for abortion by the self-interested.
Human life is a progression from conception to death across numerous stages of development maturity and deterioration. From the very early stages in the womb this human life is totally dependent on the mother, perhaps the most remarkable responsibility imposed on any human being. Even after birth this very same human life is totally dependent on others for survival in early childhood. The new-born cannot feed itself or perceive physical danger. This same life can eventually become independent and achieve great things as the createst of all creation on this planet but eventually suffers the travails of the end of life, this same life from the beginning of its conception in a mother's womb. At the end of life another form of murder is now finding its way into our portfolio of "rights", namely euthanasia.Abortion and euthanasia are equally wrong, both are murder but fundamentally differ in that the inevitability of conception in the womb is LIFE whereas the inevitability of disease requiring artificial ventilation or
feeding is death.

john frawley | 01 December 2011  

I don't think we can begin to know how these events have and will continue to affect everyone involved. For each involved ,prayer and compassion are needed not judgment & blame. As a society, I pray that the horror we have witnessed will stay our vacillation and prompt honest reflection and open discussion about the rights of the unborn.

imelda warren | 01 December 2011  

No one has the right to kill a baby in the womb no matter what. The Catholic Church teaches against abortion, contraception, IVF and euthanasia for very good reasons. All human beings have a soul made in the image of God and we are strictly prohibited from allowing these death-inducing actions. Our eternity depends in faithfully keeping God's Divine law. Life is short and if everyone should know these actions bring about the death of the soul for all eternity in Hell.

Trent | 01 December 2011  

Actually I thought the article was exactly about unborn kids being kids. That was rather the point, seems to me. Lyn asks a blunt question: why is a person who has not yet been born not counted as a person? Why is that? And the uncomfortable answer seems to be so that than can be more easily killed. If society suddenly agreed that forming beings were beings, would abortion be legal? Is it legal to kill an unforming being, a being losing his life?

Brian Doyle | 01 December 2011  

"It is time that we face up to the inconvenient truth and grant rights to the unborn. This may be the last unexplored frontier in the implementation of human rights." What a magnificent conclusion to this water shed analysis of the rights of the unborn.May I say from a personal perspective that although my parish allows me to speak from the pulpit supporting me as a fund raiser for Cana Communities, a wonderful charity which supports society's living outcasts,I am not permitted,to speak in support of of society's yet-to-be-born outcasts.

Claude Rigney | 01 December 2011  

Unless safe abortion is easily available, you'll have some women performing abortions on themselves. Back to the coat-hanger and the dodgy potion. Having to stay pregnant against one's will would be a form of torture. I don't use that word lightly.

What's a woman's life worth? Life meaning her mental integrity as well as her bodily integrity. Having a baby is now an active choice, and it should stay that way.

Most Australians support the matter of abortion remaining a decision for the woman involved.

Penelope | 01 December 2011  

We should support both mother and baby no what the stage. We need to be prepared to offer the support to children, born and unborn, and their parents so that abortion becomes unthinkable.

Les Jones | 01 December 2011  

"What's a woman's life worth?" says Penelope. I ask, What is a child's life worth? The whole purpose of the marital act is to procreate. If you don't want a child then don't involve yourself in an act that creates a baby. Our Lord has told us not to commit acts of adultery or fornication and to procreate children in married life.. What is so hard about that to understand?

Trent | 01 December 2011  

Yes PENELOPE, I agree that having a baby is an active choice. But that choice is made before conception. After conception it is no longer just the worth of the woman's life to be considered, bu the worth of the unborn baby. This is a simple, rational reality regardless of religious beliefs. If you want abortion to be legal, you must also accept the fact that abortion is killing human life. I can't see how doing this would promote a woman's mental integrity, and as for bodily integrity - there's a need to consider the integrity of the baby as well.

AURELIUS | 01 December 2011  

I was pleased to read such a balanced, carefully weighted comment on this tragic event and the equally tragic underlying climate that contributed to its cause. Many thanks, Lyn, for your honest and courageous witness to the extremely painful reality of having lost a child by abortion. I also lost a baby this way, at the age of 16, and lived for many years with the weight of grief, horror and shame that this experience can bring.

I finally found peace and comfort through a Rachel's Vineyard Healing Retreat in Seattle and am happy to say that these retreats are now available in Australia ( bringing hope, healing and peace to many women and men who otherwise would carry the pain throughout their whole lives. Once again, Lyn, congratulations on this article, and thanks. Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly | 01 December 2011  

I appreciate this reflection, thanks Lyn.

This is what struck me about this horrific story.

The language in the news reports: "healthy unborn boy", "end the life of the sick child", "She went to the hospital with two babies and now she has none".

It's 100% clear we are dealing with babies here, not "pregnancy tissue" (as an abortion provider described it in a pamphlet I once saw).

And yet, if they'd killed the right baby, it would never have been a story.

So we accept outright that these are children. Yet we also are meant to accept a mother's/father's/ doctor's right to kill them.

Two utterly incompatible ideas, but our society chooses to live with a kind of split personality on this, rather than face the true reality of what it is that we sanction.

I mean, even when this kind of story lays the reality bare, you still get responses like Frank's - who'd have "no intention of prescribing what those parents should do, or what the professionals at Royal Women's should do".

Because how dare anyone tell someone else that they have no right to kill an innocent child, right?

Meg | 01 December 2011  

Thank you Lyn for a fairly reasonable article but as long as you and "us" think like this "But to say we should award human rights to the foetus is not to say we may not sometimes decide in favour of termination" we will have ongoing situation of abortion and in our state of Vic to 40 weeks. When is the "sometime" that we must decide to be in favour of termination of a "foetus" read "kill baby" ? "Termination" is a sterile word. foetus does not bring to mind the image of baby.

Use the language that society has used since time immemorial. A language that we can see in our hearts and minds. Its easy to "terminate a bunch of cells, tissue, even a foetus" but I think a bit harder to "kill an infant" in cold blood whilst cutting it to pieces or injecting a pottasium into the heart so that it dies.
Lyn as long as you and others keep using the language of the abortion industry I dont believe much different will happen.
And yes I also dont speak from loft spires. I have had two abortions over 40 years ago and not one day goes by without remembering what if.....

Anne Lastman | 01 December 2011  

The story about the twins was heartbreaking and my heart goes out to everyone involved. What stood out to me Lyn was your comment about having the projection of irresponsibility with the adverse circumstances. I have totally experienced that but it wasn't from the medical staff. it was from the ultrasound staff. They claimed neutrality but when I told them I didn't want the aminocentesis procedure for my high risk downs pregnancy, they treated me like an irresponsible, naive person. I finally had to point out to them that I was a registered nurse so had medical insight , but that this was MY baby and meant the world to ME! I feel for anyone who had not made up their mind about what they would do if a defect was found with their baby before falling pregnant, because to have to make a huge decision like that, what was for us, 4 days (pre 20 weeks) is impossible if you don't have a firm feeling about it. So shame on staff for often pressuring mothers into have abortions. By the way, not knowing the status of our babies health for the rest of the pregnancy, I gave birth to a perfectly health baby boy who is an absolute delight.

marcia | 01 December 2011  

Your article is thought provoking and true on many levels. For myself I could not have had an abortion. There is something in my personality that views the procedure with horror, but I do not pass judgement on those who have gone that road. I am a Foster Carer of teenagers. At times it is so frustrating because these children/young adults have been created then at times tossed aside because they are an inconvieniece or it has just become 'too hard' to deal with them. Some of these children will never contribute to this society we live in, some won't be able to. Very depressing at times.

Kath Garraway | 02 December 2011  

I was astounded that they would try such a thing in a twin pregnancy where premature birth is a constant a risk from the 32-week point - particularly if you've effectively induced one of the babies. The question is why did they take the risk if they thought the baby would die anyway after he was born. Did they think it would somehow be easier on the mother? Or was there another problem with the pregnancy? I'm not speaking from an anti-abortion stance but I think there are many questions to be asked about why this procedure ever went ahead.

Nicole | 02 December 2011  

Can anyone remember the last time your heard a priest talk about 'abortion' at church on Sunday? or any of the other hot moral areas that the secular world has been winning ground in? eg. euthanasia. I think religious leaders need to 'stick their necks' out and give moral teaching on these issues. Sensitively, pastorally and also with a certain dose of challenge. What amazed me about this article was the number of regular people who saw the only problem being, that the 'healthy twin' was accidentally terminated, and the medical staff had stuff up. People are so used to abortion, that I wonder what would shock them.

Cate | 02 December 2011  

Abortion is an issue for the individual. It is not the right of any other person or group to presume to tell a pregant woman and her partner what decision they should make. No-one, not even those who think they have a direct line to God's wishes, is above others in this regard.

Jane | 02 December 2011  

Good on you Cate! No I can't remember when I last heard a priest speak against abortion on a Sunday, not since priests like Father Patrick O'Rourke and Father John Haseler, who have passed on many years ago. I am sure that some of our modern clergy would dearly love to address these matters from the pulpit, which they could do with great empathy and sensitivity. Could the reason that they don't, be because they might be ferociously attacked, and sadly,that they then may no longer be perceived as liberal and respectable "men of the cloth", if they do?

Claude Rigney | 02 December 2011  

I am glad to finally read an article in Eureka Street that is mainly pro-life. Before I could give Lyn my unqualified support I would need her to clarify the following statement. "But to say we should award human rights to the foetus is not to say we may not sometimes decide in favour of termination." I have heard of one case where a foetus was forming without a brain, or some such condition. It was not a much more than the shell of a human. An abortion was performed, and was totally justified. Other than such cases, I would need to hear more from her.

@Claude Rigney and Cate, I agree with you about the lamentable lack of moral fortitude and guidance from the pulpit on this matter. I would unfortunately offer Eureka Street as an example of the same. This is the first time that I have read an article on abortion that comes out in favour of the rights of the unborn.

Patrick James | 03 December 2011  

The right to life of the unborn, the right to life of those who commit suicide.
Last Sunday I attended the gathering at Parliament House to validate the mother's who lost their children due to those who cared little for theirs..

l Newington | 08 December 2011  

I would like to fiocus on a very good point that Ann Lastman correctly makes: that the use of language in this already difficult area has been high-jacked and distorted , and results in gross distortion of traditional concepts and even, I would suggest,undermines honesty and truth. When I was a medical student I was taught that up to the end of the second trimester, ie 24 weeks of pregnancy, there was a foetus and if the foetus died it was called an abortion ( whether spontaneous or induced). after 24 weeks there was a profound change in that there was then an unborn baby, and loss at that stage was called a 'miscarriage'. Loss of a pregnancy before or after 24 weeks, therefore had very diffrerent impacts, which whether clinical, legal or even emotional.,..though I`m sure that the real personal impacts were grossly underestomated, especailly on the parents. Even so, there was no doubt in medical and legal thinking that after 24 weeks there aws a baby involved and that after 24weeks the rights of this baby were not just strong, but approaching inviolate.This was reflected in Law. This position should have been reinforced by advances in medical technology by which babies after say 26-28 weeks or so can usually be kept alive ex-utero.However, the use of the word 'abortion'for destruction of babies after 24 weeks , has been used as pretty low trick!It distorts the debate, and undermines medical and legal tradition and enen more the rights of the baby, and indeed of the parents involved as it trivialises the situation and allows decisions to be madwe in a distorted and uninformed way.Pradoxically, I think the absolutist Catholic position of the last 30 years or so has aided this distortion in thinking and semantics, because it does not allow any of the established nuances about the moral balances which have been traditionally inherent in these biological temporal differentials.

Eugene | 08 December 2011  

Well my first thought when I heard this story in the news was of complete sympathy for the parents and those involved - followed very closely by thoughts of the grubby, predictable use the pro-lifers would make of it. I'm quite sure that it will be used for propaganda well into the future much like that photo where the doctor holds the hand of a feotus while performing surgery. That very doctor has explained that the tiny arm flopped out during the procedure and he picked it up before putting it back in - but pro-lifers insist on the fiction that the feotus 'reached out'. And they claim moral superiority?? After being told the truth they willingly ignore and perpetuate lies. I want you all to understand that not everyone even wants a baby - if I were to fall pregnant I wouldn't hesitate to have an abortion and it sickens me that you think you have the right to force me to go through an unwanted pregnancy - it's not just torture but a form of slavery. I could say 'thank god I haven't been in that position' but I don't believe in god (more fiction). What has saved me from having to have an abortion is dilligent use of contraceptives. And for those saying abstain due to some ridiculous notion that sex is only for procreation all I can do is laugh at the stupidity.

Voxpop | 14 December 2011  


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