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31 / 03 / 2008 - Bill of Rights Forum has failed by ignoring plight of unborn - Fr Timothy Bartlett
Bill of Rights Forum has failed by ignoring plight of unborn
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child upholds the principle that “the child, by reason of physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well ass after birth”.
The importance of providing such protection to children before as well as after birth came home to me with particular force recently when I visited the care unit of a maternity Hospital in Bethlehem, a once vibrant town now struggling to survive and walled off from the rest of the world.
I met doctors and nurses there who worked tirelessly and in the most difficult of circumstances to care for, nurture and protect a large number of children who had been born prematurely.
Many were born after as little as 20 weeks in the womb. They looked no different to children born after nine months, just smaller. I was deeply moved to see the heroic care being provided by the volunteer doctors and nurses looking after these children.
Today, the Human Rights Forum will make public its final report on a bill of rights for Northern Ireland. I was a member of that forum on behalf of the Catholic Church. However, I will not be attending the formal “handing over” event. The memory of the children in that care unit in Bethlehem means that in good conscience I cannot do so.
According to the forum recommendations, those children, had they still been in their mother’s womb instead of incubators, had no rights worth mentioning, no protection worth mentioning , no protection worth providing. This is in spite of the recommendations of the UN Convention on the rights of the child.
Indeed the forum went further in recommending the right to “lawful reproductive health care” the forum decided that the right to life of the child is not inherent but subject to the legal whims of Westminster for the time being and perhaps in time the assembly.
This was in stark contrast to effort to ensure respect for the inherent nature of the right to life in other parts of the report.
For the outset I have had many reservations about the Bill of Rights Forum. The membership did not reflect the issues to be discussed under the terms of reference. Important groups such as victims, the loyal orders, other faith groups and so on were excluded. The time scale and resources were too limited ensuring that critical issues could not be discussed adequately, reconciled and agreed.
In my opinion it was a fundamentally flawed process.
I also wonder whether the majority of women in Northern Ireland do “not support the view that the foetus can be assumed to have the attendant rights of children who are born” as stated by the women’s sector?
I also wonder haw many members of trade unions in Northern Ireland would oppose, as the trade union sector did – aggressively – the inclusion of the principle in the UN Convention that children are entitled to special protection both before and after birth? The same might be asked of the ethnic minority sector, the older persons sector.
In the final sector of the report, this sector subsequently indicated that “if it was included, it should be in the preamble on a Northern Ireland bill of rights.
This is in stark contrast to their determination to ensure, for example, that lethal weapons cannot be used against children under the age of eighteen. It seems there is no interest in ensuring that if the premature children in incubators were still in their mother’s womb they have some legal or other protection from violent attack, whether in domestic violence situations or from being torn apart by a doctor’s knife. I stayed with the work of the forum because the process itself and the dialogue about rights had an inherent value.
I believe in the bill of rights for Northern Ireland and many important recommendations have been made.
I also had a great respect for our excellent chair and his staff. However, since it is now clear that the forum report will not even recognize let alone provide protection for the most vulnerable in our society, I regard it as having failed in its very purpose.
It is for this reason that instead of celebrating its completion, I will be reflecting on those children in the incubators in Bethlehem and the determination of their parents, their doctors and others, in the midst of conflict and poverty, to give them the greatest possible care. I will also wonder why they should be any less deserving of it in some people’s minds, if they had remained in the womb.
Source : The Irish News
See also : Precious Life accuse `Bill of Rights Forum` of hypocrisy