The Absurd Logic of Baby Hatches

来源:有人杂志   作者:边缘立夏   2015.04.29 17:38  浏览1456
摘要:As a person with a disability, I have strong personal feelings about baby hatches. Their existence offends me. We must closely examine this phenomenon from both an academic and social perspective.

Recently, there have been intense discussions about ‘baby safety islands’ (commonly known as ‘baby hatches’). These baby hatches are locations where parents can leave young babies whom they do not want to raise. Media and public opinion mainly focus on moral condemnation of families and discussions about the nature of social responsibility.However, few people discuss the issue from the perspective of the disabled, the perspective of babies’ rights, or the perspective of the responsibilities of the birth and care of babies. Faced with overburdened ‘baby hatches,’ the government has put forward many solutions, which repeatedly emphasize ‘the reduction of the birth defects rate.’ We must look at this policy from the perspective of the right for the disabled to give birth to, and care for, babies.

It is the duty of the family, the country, and society to raise a baby. Baby hatches are a good attempt to allow families with no other options to smoothly transfer parenting duties to the country. Although there is still stigma concerning the use of baby hatches, on the whole, the existence of baby hatches is regarded as progress, compared with the past when babies where often simply abandoned.

However, the goal of eliminating the need for baby hatches by ‘the reduction of the birth defect rate’ reflects obvious discrimination against people with a disability. Is life with a birth defect unworthy? Disabilities are not a barrier to a full life if there is adequate societal support. This support is society’s responsibility, not the individual’s responsibility. Family planning policy in China does not encourage the birth of babies with a disability, and, in fact, allows parents of a baby with a disability to give birth to another baby in the future. This policy is not concerned with the caregiving burden of having a child with a disability, but rather with the elimination of, or remedy for, this ‘mistake,’ i.e. the child with the disability. If this policy were concerned with the life of the baby with the disability, the policy would, instead of encouraging parents to have another baby, focus resources on assisting the babies with disabilities, as families bear a heavy burden to take care of babies with a disability. Instead, this family planning policy treats people with disabilities as lesser humans, people who should not exist.

It is true that it is expensive, hard, and at times even painful for a family to raise a baby with a disability within the existing social structure. A family, especially the primary caregiver, often the mother, must prepare for this process. Although premarital medical tests and prenatal care can assist in determining the possibility of having a child with a disability, too many factors besides detecting techniques are involved in the decision to keep or abandon babies with disabilities, and also in the process of the development of the child. These factors include the situation of the family, the level of healthcare and welfare resources available, society’s attitude towards people with a disability, and also the actions of the doctor, whether they choose to encourage the patients or whether they increase their concern. Techniques such as premarital medical tests and prenatal care cannot and should not be used to decide whether a pregnancy should be ended on the basis of probability of birth defect. The idea of using these techniques to determine the probability of birth defects is a ridiculous illusion of the infallibility of technology.

In addition, the same government statement that encourages the reduction of the rate of children born with birth defects also emphasizes that the family is the best environment for the development of children. Is that always so? By studying family care in families with a disabled member, I found that when disability becomes a burden due to societal stigma and the demands of care needed, and if the family has no other support, the stress will often cause the caregiver and the care receiver to be emotionally, physically and economically tortured, which leads to their detesting and rejecting each other. However, as this situation is hidden within the family and thus invisible to society, this situation often continues unaddressed and the family becomes exempt from moral responsibility. In this case, the boundary between the public and private is closely related to visibility, responsibility, and resource distribution.

We often turn a blind eye to abandoned babies. Baby hatches have improved the situation for abandoned babies.However, the practice of babies being left at night shows the stigma and moral condemnation of the birth families, and also demonstrates the government's systematic and symbolic refusal to freely admit to the existence of, and bear responsibility for, the children. The government seems to be saying: ‘Oh, why is there a baby here? Who put it here? I cannot see it, and I don't approve of it, as it is not right to bring it here. Now that it is here, let's pity it and take it in.’

Starting from the position of ‘invisible’ children, the government has shifted the responsibility from government to charity. (Note: the ‘government’ involved here refers to not only to welfare, but also to the social welfare system on a larger scale. It is true that Guangzhou's welfare system is already saturated, a difficult situation.)

The first day after Guangzhou's baby hatches were halted, a couple brought a baby, but was persuaded to leave with their baby by government social workers. However, the government is not completely irresponsible. It still proposes to help children with severe diseases and children with disabilities. This seems more feasible than ‘the reduction of the birth defect rate.’ However, it must be remembered that the parents of these babies are mostly migrant workers. Therefore, these promises are meaningless, as nearly all the current welfare resources are distributed based on family registration. Social workers and the media can contact parents when they are aware of the situation, but for this to happen the family has to make their suffering known to the public. In addition, charity always chooses among many cases (those giving charity often try and compare situations to see who is more in need, and then will turn a blind eye to abandoned babies and may become indifferent to lesser tragedies in the future). When families are forced to rely on charities, it is because their right to receive support has not been fulfilled, and they must instead rely on alms given to them. In this situation, if you want to be seen, you have to cry, you have to air your grievances, and you have to compete with people in the same boat. I am skeptical about the feasibility of this solution.

Postscript: This essay has triggered discussion among ardent netizens after its publication on Weibo. Some netizens say that I am contradictory, in that the government seems to be wrong whether it offers aid or not, according to my essay. The reason may be that there is much criticism and little positive advocacy in the article (There's no making without breaking). Therefore, I respond in this way: I didn’t say that governmental support is impractical. Instead, the whole article is stressing that the government and society should bear parenting responsibility. The fact is that welfare based on family registration or on media charity, which requires families to make their suffering known to the public, is not enough. My affirmative answer to this problem is that the government should provide more support to helpless families, based on the rights and demands of children and caregivers.

The discussion has also caused some self-reflection on my part: faced with social issues, many voices and perspectives must exist and be expressed, however radical they are, such as the perspective of disability. I was asked why I cared about abandoned babies. At first, I answered that I studied disability and care giving, which relates to the issue of baby hatches. However, I also want to give a direct reason for why I wrote these criticisms of the current situation:

As a person with a disability, I have strong personal feelings about baby hatches: in fact, their existence offends me. We must closely examine this phenomenon from both an academic and social perspective.

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