Where do we stand on abortion by expectant mothers who are infected with the Zika virus? Should they be allowed to terminate their pregnancy or risk giving birth to a baby with microcephaly, which means having an abnormally small head?
Before we broach this topic, it has to be pointed out that the risk of birth defects among mothers with the Zika virus is not as grave as many of us believe to be. The Associated Press reported on various research estimating between one per cent and 15 per cent of pregnant women who contracted Zika in the first trimester had babies with birth defects.
That is the risk many mothers would not want to take. Not for themselves, but for their babies.
Abortion is legal in Malaysia, but the law is nevertheless limited. Section 312 of the Penal Code states that a termination of pregnancy is permitted in circumstances where there is risk to the life of the pregnant woman or threat of injury to her physical or mental health.
The Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia (IMAM) has suggested the setting up of a ministerial level medical bio-ethics by the Health Ministry to deal with the issue on termination of pregnancy for women infected by the Zika virus.
IMAM deputy president Dr Jamali Wagiman said the board members should comprise experts from obstetrics, infectious diseases, psychiatry, bio-ethics and religions.
“The committee will meet regularly to set the best practice guidelines through collective decision-making and thus acknowledges the roles of both experts in medicine and religion,” he said in a statement yesterday.
This is to make the decision-making process safer and just to the mother and foetus, other than avoiding unilateral decisions which could be seen as conflicting between medical practice and syariah rules.
The doctor is right in saying any decision on abortion in the case of pregnant women infected by Zika should not be hastily implemented to avoid misunderstanding and injustice to the patient and foetus.
Earlier, Federal Territories Mufti Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri was quoted as saying that Muslim women could abort their pregnancies if they were infected by the Zika virus to avoid adverse effect on the lives of their families or the baby itself.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam accepted the views of the Federal Territories Mufti on abortion for mothers infected with Zika, but expressed the need for the matters to be discussed by the National Fatwa Council.
What about the followers of other religions? We take a look about what their faiths say about abortion. Interpreting religion’s stance on abortion courts controversy and invites debate and outright criticism, but it is necessary for this topic.
The Roman Catholic Church is against termination of pregnancy. It says deliberately causing an abortion is a grave moral wrong. Even early abortions in complicated cases are regarded as incorrect, but not as a punishable wrong. According to the church, the more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the wrong.
The Church of England asks for deep deliberation, but it recognises that each individual will have differing views on the subject. There are conflicting interpretations of where the Anglican Church stands on abortion.
It is even more obscure in Buddhism as there is no single Buddhist view on abortion. Buddhists believe that life should not be destroyed. Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate termination of a life.
Similarly in Hindusim, its medical ethics stem from the principle of ahims — of non-violence. The Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society.
Abortion is generally forbidden in Sikhism, as it interferes in the creation of God. Since Sikhs consider it a sin to destroy life, abortion is forbidden.
Should we refer to religion or should we make our own judgement when it comes to terminating pregnancy in Zika cases? The fundamental right to choose on their own free will should be granted to those who don’t put religion ahead of everything else in life.