07/30/2008, 00.00
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Indian couple requests abortion for fetal heart defect

by Nirmala Carvalho
The country's law bans abortion after the 20th week. The fetus, now in the 25th week, has heart problems that would require the insertion of a pacemaker after birth, followed by regular operations to replace it. A firm "no" from the Church, which defends the absolute principle of the "right to life".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - An Indian couple, with the support of their attending physician, have submitted a petition to proceed with the abortion of a fetus in its 25th week, even though the law of the country - the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act - does not allow the interruption of pregnancy after the 20th week, unless "the life of the mother is in serious danger".

The parents, whose identity is being kept secret, appealed to the Indian supreme court after discovering that their child suffers from congenital heart problems. They are supported by a legal medical consultant, Dr Nikhil Datar, who opened the petition citing article 21 of the Constitution, in regard to the "fundamental right to life".

According to the opinion of the doctors, the heart problems would require an immediate emergency operation to insert a pacemaker, which lasts from four to five years. The child would therefore have to face at least five surgical operations, a prospect that seems to compromise his "normal existence". The doctors are also afraid of the risk of a spontaneous abortion. The woman, who was supported in her decision by her mother and her husband, says that she wants to abort because she "cannot afford the extraordinarily expensive treatment, which may or may not give results’’.

"This case was referred to me only after diagnosis of the heart problem", Dr Datar tells AsiaNews. "At 20 weeks a sonogram was done, their gynecologist realized there was something wrong with the heart sounds, and raised a suspicion and further investigations were carried out. By this time, the lady was already into 23 weeks of pregnancy. The couple was determined that they did not want to continue with the pregnancy so the gynecologist referred the couple to me, since I am a legal gynecologist professional and the law of the land states that a pregnancy cannot be terminated after 20 weeks of the formation of a fetus". According to the doctor, the couple intends to abort, and sought him out for his "professional expertise". Finally, he said he hopes the law that regulates the interruption of pregnancy will be changed to "take into consideration the needs and respect of every person". The position seems to admit, implicitly, that the decision whether to keep the child or not ultimately rests with the woman.

The Indian Catholic Church has immediately spoken out, restating its opposition to abortion and defense of life in all its forms. "The right to life of the individual human being is a moral absolute", emphasizes Dr Pascoal Carvalho, a member of the pontifical academy for life. "This deep-seated relativism between the 'right to choose' and the 'right to life' has come to mean that moral questions will be settled in the spirit of consumer choice or personal whim". He quotes Pope John Paul II, according to whom "life is always good", and he foresees negative consequences for civil society if a practice is extended that permits "[killing] infants with congenital defects before they are born. History will compel us to regret this choice", Dr Carvalho concludes.

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