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Millions of Missing Girls! Female Foeticide and Ethical Concerns

Many Indian newspapers on 27-06-2012 had an important news: “Sunitha Williams to Adopt a Gujarati Girl.” This follows the famous astronaut’s visit to Gujarat in 2007. She was shocked over female foeticide in the state.

According to the 2011 census of India, the sex ratio is 914 females per 1000 males. It is the lowest since India’s independence. The main reason for this is selective female foeticide. The statistics vary. According to some studies, selective abortion of female foetuses account for up to 12 million missing girls in India over the last three decades. Some studies say that up to 35/40 million female foeticide have taken place in India. Anyway, it is clear that millions of female foeticide take place. There are cultural and religious reasons for the preference given to male children. However, surprisingly, more female foeticide take place in the urban areas and among the educated class. India is not the only country where female foeticide is done. Another example is China. Many other countries, especially in the Southeast Asia show similar patterns. Besides being a crime against women, female foeticide leads to other social evils – growing violence against women, abduction, kidnapping and selling women for marriage, etc., since a growing number of men are unable to find marriage partners.

Female Foeticide raises serious bioethical concerns:

1. It is a typical example of how medical technology, if used without ethical concerns, can become harmful to human life and social well-being.

2. How can the medical professionals collaborate in such a heinous crime? The number of female foeticide makes it clear that a number of medical professionals are involved in it. This raises serious questions about their ethical formation and practice. When profit becomes the chief or the only motive in medical practice, it becomes the deadliest weapon against human well-being.

3. If the inviolability of human life from the first moment of conception is not defended, it will result in the destruction of human life in different ways. Even bans on female foeticide have been ineffective mainly due to the provisions for abortions on different grounds.

4. Knowing well the social consequences of female foeticide, why the medical professionals collaborate in it? One important reason is the exclusion of social concerns from the decision-making process in medical practice. Often, decision-making is considered the prerogative of the medical practitioner and the person approaching him/her, excluding the society. When decision-making in medical practice is done excluding the society and its well-being, it results in a number of evils.

Inculcating strong ethical codes in the medical professionals from their training period, social sensitivity in the medical professionals, empowerment of women, involvement of society in bioethical discussions, etc. are needed to prevent this heinous crime against women and against humanity.

Can the Church do anything to prevent female foeticide? Only very rarely we hear Church leaders speak on such issues. Christianity is a minority in India. But, the Churches run a number of educational institutions all over the country. Do we take care to conscientise the students over such crucial issues? I doubt. Moreover, the Church also should be aware that any structure or practice that discriminate women will only encourage discrimination and violence against women in different ways.