Magazine article The Human Life Review

A Brightness on the Road

Magazine article The Human Life Review

A Brightness on the Road

Article excerpt

I have friends who love e-mail "forwards," both getting and sending them; but I have successfully discouraged most of them from including me in their enthusiasms. I can do without the pop wisdom, soupy self-help advice, and astonishing pictures of vegetables carved to look like animals. Every now and then, however, I receive one worth opening and thinking about.

Recently, I got the famous photo of little Samuel Alexander Armas, the baby who was operated on at 21 weeks while still in utero. It's an amazing picture: There's the surgeon, gloved hands resting delicately on, almost embracing, the uterus, and there, in what seems at first to be a trick of light, is Samuel's tiny hand emerging from the incision and clasping the doctor's finger. Dr. Joseph Bruner said later that it was the most emotional moment of his life.

Seeing it was emotional for me too.

The night before I received this picture, one of my staff (I run a foundation in India for kids with special needs) had called to ask if she could have some time off. She was having surgery the next day and the doctor had said she would need at least three weeks' bed-rest.

I am close to most of my staff, but Simran is special. I have known her for over 13 years and she is like part of our family. I was with her when she gave birth to her first baby and she has been indispensable in our care of Moy Moy, our youngest child, who has multiple and severe special needs. Having Simran around to depend upon is like having my own sister there.

So when she said she was being operated on, I was shocked and upset. Why hadn't she told me? Was it serious? Could she have cancer? When I asked her what was wrong, she finally said, in Hindi and in typical Indian circular style, that she had a growth in the "baby place" and that the doctor had told her to come in to have it "cleaned out."

"Simran," I said, hesitantly. "That's a big decision. Can you come and see me in the morning before you go to the hospital?"

She agreed.

I didn't sleep well that night. It is hard to explain to Americans how abortion is viewed in India. In a country where overpopulation is seen as the number one obstacle to progress and well-being and where all evidence (the crushing chaos of everyday crowds, the regular breakdowns of basic services, the frequent shortages of food and medicines) seems to substantiate that view, abortion takes on a whole different meaning. Here, the government has successfully presented it as just one of a range of family-planning options, and family planning itself as an almost sacred, or at least patriotic, duty.

I have lost track of the number of my friends who have told me-sometimes casually, sometimes ruefully-about the abortions they have had. Not once has any of them seemed to feel guilty or remorseful about it. And these are women in happy marriages, usually doing well economically. These are religious women, women who fast once a week in thanksgiving for their blessings or for the well-being of their families and whose view of life is deeply spiritual. Many of them are also vegetarians who would never hurt a fly. They simply have not thought about what they were doing when opting for abortion.

An added complication is the basic ignorance many people have about biology and the "facts of life." I knew that Simran, with her eighth-grade education, had only a passing knowledge of how a baby is conceived and even less about prenatal development. She would have difficulty imagining the hectic life and unique humanity of the speck she now carried in the "baby place. …

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