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ss triple helix - autumn 2006,  Defiant Birth - Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Book Review)

Defiant Birth - Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Book Review)

Defiant Birth - Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics - Melinda Tankard Reist - Spinifex Press 2006 - £12.95 Pb 338pp - ISBN 1 8767 5659 4

Russell T Davies, writer of the current 'Doctor Who' series, may well applaud this book. Discussing the insane cyber controller's vision of eradicating all human weakness and sickness, Doctor Who warns him of the result: 'a metal earth, with metal men and metal thoughts'. Sadly, in the real world, those who believe all weakness should be eradicated are not written off as insane but, in some cases (such as Peter Singer and Julian Savulescu), given chairs in some of the most prestigious universities in the Western world. Equally sadly, those with the voice of reason, such as Melinda Tankard Reist, do not have the influence and power of a Doctor Who, but are a largely unheard, underground movement.

Initially, the title of this book jarred with this comfortable, middle-class reviewer. It contains thirteen narratives by able-bodied women who continued with pregnancies despite diagnoses of disability in the unborn child. Defiant? Surely not. As Teresa Streckfuss, who continued with not one but two pregnancies despite prenatal diagnoses of anencephaly writes: 'It's about love. It's about our babies'. There are five other narratives by disabled women, and one collection of stories from HIV positive women. They understand that in today's climate, such love is truly defiant because it flies in the face of the insidious process of shaming imperfection that is growing in our society.

Ms Tankard Reist is an Australian researcher and freelance journalist with an interest in bioethics and women's issues. This book does not take a specifically Christian viewpoint, but there is a danger that in this post-modern age, even Christians may become unquestioning and uncritical. If that is you, then read this book. The narratives are preceded by a meticulous, carefully annotated and referenced overview of how current thinking relates to the policies in our hospital and genetics departments today. It paints a terrifying picture. If you are still unconvinced, you need only look at the antipathy and venom with which Ms Tankard Reist is treated by the 'prochoice'movement on the internet to see that liberalism is not the harmless thing we might have thought.

Can this book make a difference? Medical staff do not come out of it well so maybe it will change your practice. In the afterword, Melinda Tankard Reist writes of her hope that the narratives will give courage to other women. Unfortunately the very lengthy 72 page introduction would be daunting for most and maybe, for her hope to be realised, the book should be published in a more digestible form, with the narratives forming the first part and her excellent introduction and afterword combined in chapters as a second part. This book does, however, deserve to be widely read.

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