Small items of news often tell us more about the zeitgeist than the greatest events of the day. The British Medical Journal for June 9 reported that a Spanish gynecologist in Majorca had been ordered by a court to pay $520,000 in child support for a child who was born after his attempt to abort it at the mother’s request failed. In addition, the gynecologist was ordered to pay the mother $190,000 to compensate her for the distress and disruption she suffered from the continued pregnancy and the birth of the child (though she is reported now to be very happy with him, and is pleased that he was born).
No doubt the failed abortion was the result of woeful medical negligence or incompetence, or both; and it is also likely that the mother was truly distressed when she discovered that she was still with child when she thought that an abortion had been successfully carried out. She had wanted to hide the fact that she was pregnant from her parents and was not able to do so; and apparently she had to give up her job because she was pregnant. But there is nevertheless still something deeply perverse about the judgement. No one to whom I have mentioned it has failed immediately to be disturbed by it.
The judge said that the birth “implied an unchangeable modification of the family structure, personal autonomy, and personal development” of the mother. This is strangely bureaucratic language to have used, langue de bois in fact, that makes of human life nothing but a curriculum vitae for a transcendental Department of Human Resources. Everything that happens is but an effect upon one’s personal development.
Future economic historians, if there are any, will be interested in the judge’s assumption, upon which he based his calculations of the amount the gynecologist should pay, that the mother would have to support the child until he was 25 years old: an understandable or realistic assumption, perhaps, in view of the fact that 50 percent of 25 year olds in Spain are now unemployed.
What is perhaps most significant about the way in which the whole affair was reported, however, was the complete absence from the equation of the father of the child. He didn’t come into it at all.
On the judge’s ruling, the failed abortionist was not only more responsible, but infinitely more responsible, for the child’s maintenance than his father, since the latter was not held to be responsible for it at all. He was, as literary theorists might put it, written out of the narrative altogether, as if the child had been born of virgin birth. Fathers do not count.
Of course, every child now has an inalienable right to be told the truth about its background. When the boy is old enough, surely he will have to be told that his comfortable upbringing is thanks to payments from the gynecologist who failed to abort him as his mother originally wished. Then, if he does not enjoy his life, he will be able to sue his mother for wrongfully having brought him into the world. After all, for every woe there must be an equal and opposite legal remedy.