08/06/2008, 00.00
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Life must be defended from conception to death, says Bishop Gracias

by Nirmala Carvalho
Monsignor Gracias speaks out in a controversial case. Niketa and Haresh Mehta ask the court for the right to abort their 26-week-old foetus because it has a congenital heart block. Abortion and euthanasia are two aspects of the same ‘culture of death’.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – “Any attempt against human life cheapens our attitude towards life as a whole. Today we face a culture of death and must assert forcefully our respect for life, especially for those not yet born,” said Mgr Agnelo Gracias as he spoke out in the case of Niketa and Haresh Mehta, a case that has divided India.

On Monday the Bombay High Court rejected the couple's plea to abort their 26-week-old foetus after it was diagnosed with a congenital disorder.

Under Indian law abortion is legal up to the 20th week of pregnancy and only if the life of the mother is in danger.

In their application the couple said that certain ailments could not be detected earlier, that the child will have to live with a pacemaker for his entire life and that they could not afford the pacemaker operation costs of nearly US$ 2,500.

A committee set up by the High Court said that it was not certain that the child would be born with a handicap, as court proceedings centred on the child’s “quality of life” with the parents asking for the right to have an abortion as a “question of social justice,” rejecting offers to have the child adopted at the end of the pregnancy.

In the end the court ruled that there could be no exception to the law, especially when the handicap was uncertain.

Monsignor Gracias, chairman of the Family Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, spoke on TV saying that “if the child is healthy, perhaps they [the parents] will want to keep him; if it has a handicap, he can be adopted. The sisters of Mother Teresa or the Charismatics of Jeevan Jal are ready to take care of him.”

Speaking to AsiaNews Bishop Gracias looked at the medical, legal and ethical aspects of the case.

“From a medical point of view, doctors are divided over the handicap’s existence.”

“From a legal point of view an abortion is possible only if the life of the mother or the foetus is in danger; neither is the case.”

“But from an ethical point of view, life for us is sacred from conception. There is no scientific difference between a foetus that is 25-week-old or older, fully formed, and a baby a few days old. We would recoil in horror if someone were to murder a baby because of a heart abnormality. Is there any difference between murdering a baby whom we can see and murdering another whom we cannot see?

What can the Church do for these children?

I have spoken to the sisters of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the Missionaries of Charity, and they are prepared to accept the baby and bring the baby up with love.”

“The sisters of Mother Teresa are just one such agency willing to take up such cases. We have also a prayer group, Jeevan Jal. Its director, Trevor Lewis, told me that several times mothers have come to them after their doctor informed them that their child would be deformed.” Under the circumstance, he said that “Jeevan Jal was willing to take care of the children” and that “till today, not one of the babies was deformed.”

There is a move towards legalising euthanasia. Do you see any link between abortion and euthanasia?

Definitely! Life is a continuum. Any assault against life leads to a cheapening of life. Abortion attacks life at the beginning. Euthanasia attacks life at the end. At birth, we accept life as God’s gift and we hand it back to him when death comes.”

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