Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 13 May 2015



Because we love you –
they said,
holding down my arms.

They said everything smiling –
even before,
as they pressed on the pillow.

It was like gagging on a mother's breast.

22 March 1980

I don’t say who’s narrating this poem. The term ‘assisted suicide’ wasn’t commonplace in 1980 but I wasn’t thinking about an older person who might well have given informed consent. My wife would’ve been five months pregnant when I wrote this poem and I clearly had a child in mind. Not that we had been led to expect anything untoward. We knew nothing of what was to come, not even the smiley pillowsex. I never gave a second thought when my daughter was born that there might be anything wrong with her so it wasn’t even a deep-seated fear. The only truth that was revealed that day was how much I wanted a daughter. Up until the moment my wife was actually giving birth I’d maintained that I was happy no matter what but as the child was slipping from her I found myself thinking: Please let it be a girl.

I can’t imagine smothering my daughter no matter what. That’s not what dad’s do. And yet there are parents faced with that decision daily. An amniocentesis test examines the amniotic fluid surrounding the developing baby. The test is not offered to every pregnant woman and we certainly were never offered it but what if we had been? And what if it revealed that our child had a 99.4% chance of being born with Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Cystic Fibrosis or Muscular Dystrophy? What then?

What would we have done? I don’t know. I really don’t know. There are some things you simply cannot plan for. And this is one of them. I’d like to think I’d have done the right thing. But what’s the right thing?


Gwil W said...

I was reminded of the activities of one Dr. Gross and his 'hospital' staff. There was even a Nazi formula for working out who was an imperfect child in a perfect world (as they were called). It saved many people the trouble of having a conscience. Dr Gross was rehabilitated after a suitable lapse of time and memory and even greatly honoured for his contribution to the 'science' of eugenics in his later years.

Jim Murdoch said...

There is a scene in the film The Giver, Gwilliam, where the Giver shows his apprentice a video of the boy’s father, who works in a medical centre, a seemingly kind and loving man, "releasing" a baby twin by giving him a lethal injection. Like any other "aberration" from sameness, identical twins are against the rules, so the smaller of the two is dispatched like garbage, without the one who conducted the release understanding the true meaning of the action. It’s a disturbing scene but the reason I’m mentioning it is because there’s no emotional attachment. The same with the Nazis you mention. What I had in my mind when I wrote this poem were parents and this is an act of love. If I’d added a subtitle ‘After the zombie apocalypse’ everyone—everyone who watches The Walking Dead anyway—would get it; a choice between the horrible and the unbearable.

PhilipH said...

I can go along with ending the life of an elderly and sick person to ease the pain of living but could not imagine having to do the same for a baby.

I met a couple in Norfolk in the mid-70s who were waiting for their ten-year-old only son to die. This poor kid was totally unable to do anything; totally reliant on his mum and dad for everything. I forget the name of the illness he was born but they told me that no child with this problem had ever lived beyond the age of 12.

They were devoted to the boy. But he would soon be gone from them.

I wanted to say to them that it would have been far better had he died at birth but of course I could not, would not say this. But it is what I believed, as this young lad had no real 'life' as we know it. He simply had to last out a death sentence with a maximum of 12 years before execution.

Our first child, a boy, was born prematurely at 25 weeks and lived for only seven hours. This was in 1959 and I saw him briefly before he died. He looked deformed in that his head seemed bigger than the rest of his tiny body. I was relieved when he died but my wife was desperately anguished and inconsolable. we were lucky to go on to have another boy about a year-and-a-half later, followed by two daughters.

This is a sad subject to talk about so I'll stop now.

Jim Murdoch said...

One can only wonder what the future will bring, Philip, and we’ll be long gone before it gets to this stage, but there will come a time where it’s not just the quality of life that’s the issue but the right to life or at least the issue of expectancies. How much life should we expect? As long as we can carry our own load then I would probably say as much as we can manage but once we start to become a burden on others then might they not have a say in how long we deserve to live? Emotive issues, yes, and issues we’ve had the luxury of being able to put off talking about. Or thinking about. We think nothing—or nothing much—about putting a dog or a horse out of its misery and yet we’re content to let humans suffer until the bitter end. The body has to have had enough. Who cares what the mind thinks or how much it suffers.

There’s an interesting film coming out called Maggie. On the surface it’s a zombie movie but it’s not your typical zombie movie. In this future it takes some eight weeks for the infected to turn and so we get to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a late bid to prove he can actually act) take his teenage daughter home knowing he has two months to say goodbye. There’s no cure. He has two options: hand her over to the authorities when it’s time or handle things himself. It’s getting good reviews. Arrives here in July I think.

Kass said...

The poem is simple and powerful.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Kass. I'm glad it touched you.

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