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Chasing a dream

16 August 2013

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"THERE is nothing in the medical-school training that prepares you for this." Deborah Bowman, a Professor of Medical Ethics, might be justly accused of understatement here, as the case that she and a panel of other experts were discussing on Inside the Ethics Committee (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) might have taxed the imagination of the most ingenious of textbook authors.

Rosemary is an inspiring woman. She has won a swimming silver at the Paralympics; she maintains an active life; and this despite her suffering from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects her muscle and bone growth, and entails a long list of secondary problems. But these are as nothing compared to the list of complications that might arise if she pursues her dream of becoming a mother - particularly if this involves IVF treatment.

I stopped writing at blood clots and feeding tubes. And then there was the challenge of how Rosemary was to look after the child if her treatment was successful. Notwithstanding her impressive optimism, it came as no real surprise that the NHS turned her down for treatment.

But this story does not end there; for Rosemary happened to win a free cycle of IVF treatment from a private clinic that was advertising on the internet. You would think that that deserved a slot on Inside the Ethics Committee in itself, and even the most ardent defenders of the private medical market must wince at the thought. But, happily, all the nay-sayers were proved wrong, and Rosemary gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Maria. The obstetrician in charge summed up the feelings of many of the professionals involved: "I rarely lose sleep over patients . . . but I was hugely relieved when [Rosemary and Maria] were no longer my responsibility."

From a situation where an indi-vidual appears to want a baby too much, to a society which, until recently, appeared not to value babies enough: orphanages in Romania were a notorious symbol of the CeauŞescu regime, attracting not only prospective parents from the West, but also charity workers such as Tessa Dunlop.

In Crossing Continents (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), Dunlop returned to one of the orphanages in northern Moldova where she had worked, asking some awkward questions of the Orthodox Church there. Since CeauŞescu's fall, the Church in Romania has flourished in the most astonishing way. It is estimated that a new church is built in Romania every three days - the most ambitious of which is a new cathedral in Bucharest.

Whether this is symbolic of a justified reappropriation of the public space by a resurgent Church, or of a dastardly alliance between the temporal and spiritual realms depends on whom you ask. But what is clear from Dunlop's report is that the Church did little of practical value to alleviate the suffering in the orphanages where she worked, preferring instead to focus on establishing a reassuring presence on the big political stage.

All this building costs money, of course; which is why the going rate for a patriarchal appearance in your province is a cool €25,000. Nice work if you can get it.

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