The president of the Brazilian Bioethics Society (SBB), Volnei Garrafa, suggests
that population be consulted on the interruption of pregnancy in cases of
anencephalia (a congenital defect that blocks the formation of the brain).
"A plebiscite on
the issue would be welcome in Brazil. What is important is for laws not to
detach themselves from the morality of society," he observes.
July 1st, Federal
Supreme Court Judge, Marco Aurélio Mello, issued a preliminary ruling
permitting abortion in such cases to the National Confederation of Health
Workers (CNTS), which filed the suit.
Prior to this, the procedure
required court authorization. The ruling, which is valid for all of Brazil,
will still be analyzed by the other members of the Supreme Court, most likely
in August, after the Judicial recess.
The National Conference
of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) wants the decision to be reversed. The CNBB's
lawyer, Luíz Carlos Martins Alves, is examining the best way to prevent
the ruling from becoming definitive.
Garrafa believes that
the decision to carry a pregnancy through to the end should be up to each
woman. "The preliminary ruling does not order the interruption of pregnancy;
rather, it gives the mother liberty to resolve the issue according to her
"Brazilian law must
stop being negative and prohibitory and become affirmative on these matters,
since the country is pluralistic in terms of morality."
According to the president
of the SBB, 65 percent to 70 percent of the fetuses without brains never complete
the nine-month gestation period. Of those that are born, around 90 percent
die before they are one day old.
The CNBB lawyer, Luís
Carlos Alves, disputes this argument. "It is immaterial whether the fetus
lived for only one minute or a hundred years. It lived. If the life lasted
only one minute, so be it, it was nature that made this decision. Nature,
not the human hand, can determine the duration of life."
For Garrafa, who is also
coordinator of the Unesco Chair in Bioethics at the University of Brasília
(UnB), the debate on the interruption of pregnancy should extend beyond the
cases of anencephalia.
"The discussion should
encompass all congenital malformations that are incompatible with life, so
that women who so desire, do not suffer, and women whose religion says that
that fetus is a person, carry the pregnancy through to the end."
In Brazil the right to
abortion is guaranteed by article 128 of the Penal Code under two circumstances:
when the unwanted pregnancy is the consequence of rape or when there is mortal
risk to the mother. The interruption of pregnancy in cases of fetal malformation,
such as anencephalia, is still not covered by existing law.
In a note released July
2, the Brazilian National Council of Bishops (CNBB) states that the decision
by Federal Supreme Court (STF) Judge, Minister Marco Aurélio Mello,
on the interruption of pregnancy in the case of an anencephalic (brain absent)
fetus should have been made after ample reflection by society and with the
participation of the entire Court.
In the note, the CNBB
affirms that it was surprised by "Minister Marco Aurélio's solitary
ruling," judging that there is no crime of abortion in this case. "In
this manner, he authorized the voluntary interruption of the gestation of
a human life," the note adds.
The CNBB says that it
trusts the STF members' sense of Right and Justice to reverse the decision.
"In fact, a human life, which is formed in the mother's womb, is already
a new holder of rights, and, for this reason, this life should always be respected,
regardless of the stage or the condition in which it exists."
The note bears the signature
of the president of the CNBB, Don Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the vice-president,
Don Antônio Celso de Queirós, and the secretary-general, Don
Irene Lobo works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency
of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.