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Fraudulent Fertilisation

Episode 31

Ricardo Ludovico Gulminelli
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Alicia Sandrelli intervened in the dialogue.

“It’s incredible, Carlos, I would never have thought something like that would exist. And what does the church say about all this?”

“Look,” answered Stelli hesitantly, “the truth is I don’t know, I haven’t had the chance to read what they specifically say about cloning. In general, they severely criticise new applications of biology, that doesn’t strike me as foolish... Historically, the natural way to procreate is that which arises in the union between a man and a woman. But perhaps it won’t be like that in the future, who knows...”

“Nevertheless, doctor,” refuted Mabel, “I’m not convinced, the truth is I can’t find any argument that authorises leaving the embryo vulnerable.”

“You’re right,” answered the doctor, “I never doubted that the fertilised egg has rights. I accept that eliminating it is harsh, wounding, but I ask: doesn’t the mother have rights too? Isn’t it acceptable for us to analyse the suffering of someone who, in adverse circumstances, doesn’t want to be a mother? Isn’t it fair that we give them the chance to choose? Tell me, Mabel, would you have felt the same if you’d had the abortion at six months pregnant?”

“Certainly not, Carlos,” answered the girl, “at that point, my child might have been able to live on its own, it would be totally formed. It would have been much worse, I don’t think I would have done it if that had been the case.”

The gynaecologist stroked the teenager’s hair, satisfied with her viewpoint. “Now we’re in total agreement,” he said to her affectionately. “As the new being develops, it deserves more protection. An abortion at eight months, doesn’t differ at all, in my opinion, from the cruellest infanticide. On the other hand, an abortion carried out a few days after getting pregnant, is almost unimportant. I think it’s a question of common sense.”

Roberto Burán felt the temptation to intervene.

“In favour of your thesis, dear Carlos, let’s not forget that there would be fewer abortions if the number of unwanted pregnancies was reduced. This would happen if contraceptive methods were distributed and, of course, allowed.”

“Of course,” said the gynaecologist.

Mabel was listening attentively. She remembered the words of Father Tomás. She asked, “Carlos, my neighbourhood priest told me that the church accepted that husbands take care not to procreate.”

“Ah! That’s a good one!” said the gynaecologist, laughing. “Do you know what these gentlemen say? When I talk about these matters, I can’t help getting worked up. The Holy Mother Church provides a miracle solution! The couple can fornicate without problems; they only need to be careful when the woman is in a period of fertility. How’s that for a remedy?

“The priest told me this only happened for a few days a month, isn’t that so?”

“Yes,” answered Stelli, raising his eyebrows and smiling ironically, “it’s very simple! To find out whether the woman is ovulating, you have to take her to a doctor, or take her temperature. Can you imagine what the margin of error is? Astronomical, of course. A woman can have a temperature for many reasons, or ocasionally ovulate without having one. Besides, how do you think this method would work in a shanty town? It’s absurd, they’re asking the semi-literate, the needy, vulnerable people hungry for affection, to be robots, to not follow their natural impulses. Believe me, Mabel, I’m convinced: this can only be sustained through ignorance to achieve some specific result, which implies a good dose of bad faith.”

“Father Tomás told me we had to increase the bread, instead of diminishing the table...”

“That’s excessive piety! No informed person could think such rubbish. Sooner or later, we’ll have to take care of birth control, no scientist doubts it. Do you realise that morals have nothing do with religion? I’m going to give you some great advice: don’t pay attention to anybody without thinking very carefully, analysing everything in the light of your own ideas. Don’t tie yourself down to sacred principles, don’t stop reaching your own conclusions...”

“All right, doctor... I mean, Carlos,” said Mabel, “I admit your words have done me good, but we agree that abortion is murder, don’t we?”

“Look, girl, you would commit one if you chose to carry it out of your own free will. That’s not your case; you were facing two anguish-inducing possibilities. Painfully, you had to choose one or another. The death of your potential child was unwanted, it was an undesired result, but necessary for you in those circumstances.”

“Father Tomás told me that, when my child had grown up I would thank God for not having eliminated it...”

“It’s probable, although I think whatever your decision, you would have validated it unconsciously. There’s a natural tendency to accept what’s done. Ask your sister if she regrets what she did when she was nineteen.”

Alicia Sandrelli hesitated an instant, squeezed Roberto’s right hand as he sat beside her, and finally gave her answer...

“No, I don’t regret it, although it hurts to think I’d have a little kid now. How can I deny that it hurts? In that sense, I’m sorry, I admit it, but faced with the inevitable, I think it’s absurd for me to think about it. Why torture myself?”

“That’s it,” said Stelli, “and in your case, Mabel, it would have been exactly the same. No one has the right to judge you, you alone had to face such an adverse situation. It was your future at stake. Who do you have to answer to? You made a decision when you were hounded by the situation. It’s ridiculous to expect yourself to be able to see the future at that difficult juncture.”

“But, Doctor Carlos, I could have had it. Couldn’t I even have given it up for adoption?”

“Yes, you ‘could have’, that is, you had that possibility. It was your decision, if you had decided to have the baby, you would have behaved magnificently. I don’t deny it. What’s more, I would congratulate you if it had been so. But the world isn’t full of heroes, it’s full of suffering, flesh and blood beings. We’re riddled with defects, Mabel, we’re fallible and weak. That’s the way it is, that’s the real world. Everything else is lies, just an invention of false moralists. The one who had to be ‘lumbered’ with the kid was you; it’s easy to criticise from the outside.”

“Thanks, doctor, your words are a relief,” sighed the girl.

Carlos smiled and went on explaining.

“To console you, I’ll tell you that the number of abortions in Argentina is enormous. There aren’t many statistics available, but I can guarantee you, the same thing happens throughout Latin America. It’s a symptom of the needs left unsatisfied regarding family planning and services. The social consequences are disastrous, more so in the poorer classes, of course. What few surveys have been done show that women who resort to illegal operations have a high mortality rate. Meanwhile, there’s a very low level of contraceptive use. It has been shown that the majority of abortions carried out in Latin America were requested by married women. This shows that it fulfils the deliberate role of limiting the number of births. The effects caused by this deplorable situation are numerous. Not only must we lament disabilities, deaths through infection and sterility; valuable health resources are also wasted. It’s an inexhaustible subject.”

“I didn’t think it was that common,” said Mabel, “I’m amazed, I thought mine was an exceptional case.”

“No dear, this data is published by the World Health Organisation, I didn’t make anything up. With knowledge of the subject, I can also tell you that out of a thousand single adolescent women, only an insignificant proportion decide to continue with the pregnancy. In these cases, it’s usually because the pregnancy is very advanced.”

“Is that because those cases are more dangerous?” asked Mabel.

“Not only because of that,” answered the gynaecologist, “what happens is that there’s a substantial difference when the foetus is well developed. There have to be certain limits... If its organs and functions can be distinguished, if it experiences pain, a different ethic imposes itself. In my opinion, as the conceived being grows, the mother’s moral right to terminate her pregnancy becomes more relative.”

Roberto Burán couldn’t help giving his opinion.

“Excuse me, I want to make clear that this is the trend in all the legislations of the developed world. Mabel’s problem awakened my curiosity,” said Roberto, taking a booklet from the righthand pocket of his trousers. “I’ve been reading quite a lot, I’ve brought a bit of data here for her... Until 1967, abortion was illegal in the whole world, except for Denmark and Sweden. That year, Great Britain reformed its old laws. In 1970, the state of New York passed its own, which, incidentally, is very liberal. In 1973 the Supreme Court of Justice of the United States made a clear distinction between foetus and person, stating that they did not mean the same thing. It highlighted that the state had a double interest to protect, that of the mother and that of the potential human life. The Court practically decided that before three months, the State could not encroach on the absolute right of the mother to terminate her pregnancy.”

“If the most important judges in the United States think like that, what you did can’t be that bad, can it?” Alicia said to Mabel, stroking her hair.

Carlos Stelli completed the idea.

“One thing’s true about abortion: it’s a fact of life, of reality. Morality can’t be imposed through legislation. It is, it always has been and always will be, a tragic option. Like so many other medical decisions that must be taken, this involves a choice of the least bad alternative. Abortion can be morally justified, laying emphasis on the suffering and desperation of the patient, her family, and even society. Our responsibility is to acknowledge the sovereignty of the individual’s conscience, help our patients to consider all the ramifications and consequences, so that they can choose the course their life should follow. If the choice they finally make involves the termination of a pregnancy, we should provide a solution as soon as possible. With security, lots of compassion and a profound sense of the loss implied by the life sacrificed. A realistic and modern legislation would improve the situation greatly, but we prefer to pretend not to see the reality. We’re still underdeveloped, slaves to morality.”

“I totally agree,” opined Roberto. “As Alicia said, I don’t think the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice of the United States of America are immoral or criminals. Our legislators ought to think about it...”

Mabel sat up, asked Stelli for a cigarette and sat closer to him. Looking into his eyes, interested in his opinion, she asked him:

“Doctor Carlos, if I had been in a country like the ones you mentioned, would they have done my abortions for free? Because it’s really expensive here...”

“That’s another horrific little subject; it’s shocking how many women die, victims of abortion techniques, generally at the hands of quacks, midwives and incompetent doctors.”

“How did you pay Álvez, Alicia? I understand he’s not at all generous,” asked Roberto.

Translation: Peter Miller (© 2002)
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Copyright ©Ricardo Ludovico Gulminelli, 1990
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Date of publicationJuly 2002
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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