Choices…


Let me say at the very outset that I am pro-choice, so if you are not, maybe you shouldn’t read further. On the other hand, maybe you should read on, to try and understand another perspective. The choice is yours.

And isn’t that what life is all about really – Choices? When every human being has the ‘freedom of choice’, that, in my opinion, is true Freedom.

Two days ago, the Mumbai High Court struck down the Mehtas’ petition to abort a 25 week old foetus that has a high chance of being born with a serious congenital heart defect that will probably compromise that entire family’s long-term quality of life and perhaps the baby’s very survival. The judges based their decision on the present laws in India (which disallow abortion beyond 20 weeks unless there is a proven risk to either/or the mother’s and baby’s life) and the testimony of medical experts.

Medical opinions during this hearing have been confusing to say the least! Initially they said chances of the baby’s survival were slim at best with a pacemaker and major life-threatening surgery required and then they said there was not enough risk to either the baby’s or mother’s life to justify an abortion! I’m still wondering what the truth is!

Anyone that has trained as a doctor knows that medicine is at best an inexact science. Anything is possible, some things are more probable than others and nothing is absolute. Although science continues to progress rapidly, we are far from a complete understanding of the human body and in many cases doctors are rather like mathematicians, advising patients on probability and risk and since they are only human, mistakes happen. A complete turnaround of this sort however, just makes me begin to wonder at the ‘expertise’ of such experts!

I could not find the name of the exact congenital heart disease that the Mehta baby has (there is a wide spectrum) mentioned anywhere but from the descriptions offered in the media, it doesn’t look too good for the baby or the parents. I am not a parent yet, however as a doctor and paediatrician, I understand how frustrating it must be for parents to try and make a decision when all they have are numbers – a 1%chance of this or a 5% chance of that. It is not a situation I would want to be in and I commend the Mehtas for the courage they have shown in making, what must be a heart-breaking decision and then for going about it in the proper legal way. I cannot say with any confidence that I would have had the strength and courage they have shown.

Given the medical opinions and the laws today, there could not have been any other verdict, unless the courts had shown foresight, but the Indian justice system is archaic and sluggish at best, certainly not progressive. Perhaps this case will serve as an impetus for change. The case was, as is typical in India nowadays, covered with a fiendish frenzy in the media. Since everyone with a brain has an opinion a vociferous national debate ensued, which in my opinion is the only good thing to come out of this mess so far.

I feel deeply for first-time parents, Niketa and Haresh. It is a trying time for them – handling the diagnosis, coming to a decision, dealing with the media circus and being judged by all and sundry. This episode has not only caused them grief in the present but has assured that they will remain under scrutiny for the rest of the pregnancy and certainly after the baby is born. The whole of India will now be watching their every move!

I have read a lot of comments both for and against the Mehtas’ choice. I am pro-choice as I said in the very beginning and so I support Niketa Mehta’s right to make her choice, any choice, right or wrong, is not for me to judge. This is a very personal decision based on their life, their beliefs and their recognition of their ability to deal with the consequences of that decision.

Since every situation is unique, it’s pointless to argue with those who presume to understand what the Mehtas feel or are going through, unless they have dealt with a similar issue in their own lives. I firmly believe that you can never know how you will react in a crisis, let alone anyone else.

The Mehtas have been accused of everything, from being publicity hounds, to wanting to abort the baby because they found out it was a girl or because it is not perfect. Don’t all parents dream of a ‘perfect child’? Is there something wrong about wanting the best, striving for the best? As a race we are continuously trying to better ourselves and our world – I always thought that was what set us apart from animals!

Others say they have no right to make a decision on behalf of their baby – this I find laughable, simply because parents make decisions for their children all the time! I don’t here any complaints when parents choose schools, colleges, friends, professions and even spouses for their children! Surely these choices change their children’s lives profoundly and yet at such times I hear the phrase ‘Parents know what is best for their children!’ or ‘You are too young to know what’s good for you!’ bandied around regularly! Why then the sudden change when the baby is still in utero? Do parents morph into evil, conniving, selfish beings during pregnancy, thinking only of themselves with no regard for the life they have created together?

I wonder, how many people will rush to help the Mehtas, if the baby is indeed born with the defect and has a poor quality of life? And I am not talking financial help -that’s the easy part – I am talking volunteering time to provide the Mehtas much needed support and respite from the gruelling routine of looking after a special needs child. Not many, I don’t think. And no, I don’t see God descending from the heavens to care for them any time soon either! I have faith but I also believe ‘God helps those who help themselves’.

I have a physically challenged sibling and it has dramatically changed the way we live our life as a family. Did we ask for it? Of course not! Are we dealing with it? Yes, to the best of our abilities. Do we wish things were different? Every second of every day. Can I imagine life without my brother – Hell No! The physical, emotional and mental stress of taking care of a special needs child, is exacting on their caregivers, especially in a country like India, where life is a daily struggle even for ‘normal’ people. It is a tough life with much joy yes, but also many concerns for the future. I know this concern is not unique to parents of a special needs child but they do have a unique set of problems to deal with, in addition to everything else.

Does that mean all parents faced with the Mehtas’ situation will make the same decision they did – of course not! People chose differently in similar situations, driven by their own life experiences. But what is crucial, is that they have the right to make that choice without being publicly judged.

Some argue that had the Court ruled in favour of the abortion, it would have opened the floodgates to other couples who would then pick and choose the pregnancies they wanted to keep based on other more trivial criteria. Perhaps that is true. But in my opinion that says more about people than it does about the system.

In my career as a doctor, where I have seen ‘loving’ parents refuse to donate minuscule amounts of blood for their babies asking me to “Please buy some blood, doctor. We will pay whatever the cost!” I have also seen devoted parents caring tirelessly for their sick children.

The Mehtas’ made a choice. In my opinion it was their choice to make. The only reason we are even discussing it today, is because they chose to do it legally and in the public eye. And yet, isn’t that the whole point ‘freedom of choice’? One size does not fit all and there is no right or wrong – just ordinary people, doing what they think is best at the time, to the best of their ability. Who can ask for more?

I wish the Mehta family strength, stamina and courage for what lies ahead.

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2 thoughts on “Choices…

  1. Hey harsha,Interesting commentary on a contentious issue.Even if we get past all the usual “Rights of the unborn child” etc,the pain the parents must go through till the birth and thereafter is unimaginable.CheersAparna

  2. Dear Harshawhole of last week we have been reading about it but in your blog i found the exact expressions of thoughts i would agree to.In Sunday Loksatta i read the article of Dr. Nikhil Datar , Nikita’s Gynaec who has thanked the couple for trusting him and agreeing to knock on the doors of law.At the end he says that Nikita is not a case anymore , it is becoming a movement with the support of the like minded people.His mail id was not mentioned or i would have liked you to send your post to him.nanni

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