Sunday, November 18, 2007

Birth, contraception, bastardy...

Most of the end of last week was taken up with preparation for - and presentation at - a very nicely-put together conference run by the Journal of Hospital Medicine, who had decided they needed to inform their readers about family planning. High profile speakers like Profs James Trussell of Princeton and Kaye Wellings of the London School of Tropical Medicine sat alongside coalface presenters working at family planning organisations such as Brook.

The whole thing was utterly fascinating - hearing the latest updates on how women (and men) are making their choices, or failing to, as regards contraception, termination and sexual health. And I enjoyed making my own contribution - on the emotional underpinnings of contraceptive decisions and how these influence what people do. But what came across to me most, among all the medical-speak and pharma-slang, was just how concerned all the speakers and delegates were with the patients in their care. Throughout the whole conference there ran a real thread of warmth and compassion on every family planning issue; moving and heartwarming in the extreme.

There was also, for me, a curious juxtaposition. Only the previous evening I had gone to see the latest Royal Shakespeare King Lear, starring (and I do mean starring - despite the critical reviews it was a total tour de force) Ian McKellen. As I settled into my seat, my conference preparation at the forefront of my mind, one of the themes of the play totally hit the mark. Family love... parents... children... and yes, the issue of unwanted offspring that runs as a subplot to the whole play.

I loved Lear, and everything about it. But I became aware during the performance that I am very, very glad that I live in the present day and not the Shakespearean era. For nowadays we do have the choice of preventing unwanted conception. We do give women the right to choose. And if their choice is to give birth, then however much we may disagree with their decision or criticise the original conception, we do not now judge the offspring of non-wedlock birth as more - well, illegitimate - than those of in-wedlock birth. The care, support and compassion I experienced at the Family Planning Conference is the benchmark nowadays for health care - but it also reflects the lack of stigma in society around this whole issue.

In short, right thinking people nowadays do not call others 'bastards' because of the circumstances of their birth. Correctly and ethically, we judge them entirely on their merits.

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