Wednesday, 27 June 2012

What value maternity?

My main "day job" is as a science teacher. From time to time, students comment about how much better I could have done in life if I had worked in industry instead of in the teaching profession. I usually try to point out to them that, though they hadn't really intended it in that way, they have in fact undertaken a valuation of my work (with them) as a teacher, and that the outcome of that valuation has been that my work as a teacher is not considered of a high value. They are, of course, implicitly if not explicitly, valuing my work only on the basis of its relative financial reward. It happened to me again this week.

But I think we also need to be wary of some other instances of inadvertent valuation that take place.
A few weeks ago I saw a poster locally with the strap line, "Condoms are free. Babies are not", against a background image of baby clothes, bedding, etc. Now the underlying message, aimed at young people in an area of London with a high pregnancy rate among young people, that bearing children involves a long term responsibility to those children is quite understandable and it can form a legitimate part of sex and relationships education. Catholics might well not support the use of condoms as the answer, wishing to suggest that sexual restraint and chastity are the ethically more sound alternatives, constituting a more true sense of the idea of "responsible parenthood" as taught by Humanae Vitae. But much more subtle in the strap line is the implicit valuation of children, negatively, in terms of their financial cost to young parents.

This morning a head line to BBC Radio 4 coverage of  summit being held in London to promote the provision of contraceptive services referred to pregnancy as being the biggest cause of death among teenage girls (I can't remember the exact words, and can't readily find them on the BBC Today programme site). The particular reference was to a report from Save the Children: Pregnancy is the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide and a conference being held in London under the aegis of the Department for International Development: Family planning: UK to host summit with Gates Foundation.  As John Smeaton points out, 

... it is misleading to say that pregnancy or childbirth are in general causes of death. Haemorrhage, sepsis and infection may cause death. In most cases, death and serious injury can be averted by good maternity care, such as trained birth attendants, blood transfusion, antibiotics, etc.

But it is the subtle valuing of pregnancy as if it were a disease, something taken up uncritically by today's news coverage, that I think we should spot and resist.

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