Virginia Barton

Who’s life is it, and who’s to care?

 Catholic Herald, 6 May 1988


Life is certainly not all milk-shakes and conkers. However carefully one wraps up, the ways the world have a habit impinging on what might otherwise be quite a cosy, comfortable sort of life-style, minding one’s own business and harming nobody. Most of us have experienced the urge “write to the papers” and, to judge from correspondence columns, many translate the urge to action.

But on the whole we’re a phlegmatic lot, not easily roused to agitation. Call it tolerance or laziness, we’ll put up with almost anything for a quiet life. I don’t know about you, but I’ve only ever taken part in one demo, marching solemnly from Hyde Park to Whitehall (I was so frightened of possible counter-demonstrators I had my name and address pinned in my pocket  with instructions as to what to do with my corpse!)

saint_teresa_1005Every now and then a good to shaking does the world of good, prompting if not action then a reappraisal of long held opinions. The hapless postman delivered my good shaking in the shape of a speech Mother Teresa gave at the Global Survival Conference in mid-April. I don’t know if she pierced the heart of the Iron Lady when she begged for help for the dwellers in cardboard boxes under London’s bridges, or whether she brought a blush to the cheeks of the sobersides in Westminster when she reminded them to be grateful they had been born. She certainly stopped me in my tracks when I read that she “never gives a child to a family that has used contraceptives . . . because using contraceptives kills the power of loving, kills the power of being loved”.

Contraception, its pros and cons, is very old-hat nowadays. It is never discussed in serious circles, for it is assumed that that particular Rubicon was crossed years ago, and as a topic of discussion it’s about as interesting as whether or not King Edward VII’s pal cheated at cards.

But the fallout from that old chestnut is very much with us in the shape of that ugly word, abortion. Only a society familiar with contraception would have legalised abortion, and the acceptance of it is a watershed. A society so blunted in conscience and sensibility, where decent outrage is shouted down as old-fashioned and illiberal, will stop at nothing; euthanasia is merely biding its time in the wings.

No-one can read of the latest technique of the transplanting of foetal brain tissue into the brain of a victim of Parkinson’s  Disease without some sense of foreboding, not least because the general public was made aware of the operation only after the event. Unlike other transplants, permission was not sought from the next-of-kin, as the woman’s decision to have an abortion in the first place was presumed to have terminated any interest she may have had in the disposal of the foetus.

Had she been asked, would it not have been an acknowledgement of the humanity in that collection of cells, both by her and the doctor? Again, unlike other transplants (kidneys, hearts) it is theoretically possible to “breed” for these foetal transplants.

There is no suggestion that this is the case yet; after all there were 170,000 legal abortions last year alone. As the chairman of the ethical committee involved at Birmingham said: “Since foetuses were being produced in large numbers, it was a shame not to make use of them”. This may sound callous but such guidelines as there are made this operation illegal or impermissible. Was the recipient informed of the source of the transplant before the operation? We all want to lead long and healthy lives, but at whose expense?

Fortunately there are many good people promoting excellent scientific work; they deserve the support of an alert and vigilant public. Alarmed – not yet alarmist.



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