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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 906


Senator SHEIL (Queensland) - I rise to oppose both amendments. I find myself in the curious position of being on the same side as Senator Missen in this debate.


Senator Puplick - You should think how Senator Missen feels.


Senator SHEIL - I admired Senator Missen 's legal argument. I think that a maturing process is going on. Even Senator Wheeldon has done the full circle and is agreeing with me on a lot of points, too. The debate is important. I am sorry that it degenerated in the House of Representatives from being a debate on human rights to being one on the abortion issue. The article in the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is quite clear and quite broad. It says that every human being shall have a right to life, that that life shall be protected by law and that no one shall take away that life, whether before or after birth. We can get into the interminable argument of when life begins.

All events in life are processes. Conception is a process. Being born is a process. Dying is a process. For example, when a person dies and is buried in a coffin his hair and nails still grow. A person is not dead all at once. Similarly, being born is a process. Conception often starts with just a gleam in somebody's eye, but it is definitely a process. If we try to figure out at which stage ensoulment takes place we will enter into another argument altogether.

I have the greatest respect and always have, particularly so by being involved in the medical profession, for human life from the moment of conception or whenever. It is an intricate process. In fact, it is so intricate that one often wonders how so many of us can be born normal. Many things can go wrong. Fortunately, most of us are born normal. It is as well to remember that nature rejects about 1 5 per cent of all pregnancies. How will we figure out which ones nature would have rejected? Nearly all of the pregnancies which are rejected involve some serious abnormalities. Are we to ask all the doctors to fight for the life of every child that is threatening to miscarry, particularly when a doctor knows the child has probably some severe abnormality. How long will a doctor let the woman lie around bleeding while he fights for the life of the baby? We know of congenital abnormalities occurring, such as babies being born without any brains in their head. They are not all in this chamber. Such births do occur. We can call the babies encephalic monsters. They are incapable of sustaining life for longer than a few hours. The babies are usually born with massive shoulders. I remember as a young doctor that we were trained, with the cranioclast and cephalotribe, to smash the shoulders to bits to get the baby out. If we were not pretty sharp in getting the shoulders out they would impact and immeasurable damage would be done to the pelvic outlet. These things happen. Other people can marry and have beautiful blue-eyed daughters who are all blind, subject to fits and will die at two years of age. The only solution is for these people not to have children or to divorce and then re-marry. I have known in my own lifetime of such re-marriages occurring and for successful pregnancies to be carried through. Once we try to narrow this human rights covenant specifically to the rights of unborn children we open a Pandora's box and are faced with the medical problems, the philosophical problems and all the legal problems that were well expounded by Senator Missen today. On these grounds, I cannot support the amendments.







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