Rarely Pure And Never Simple

Rarely Pure And Never Simple

A Story by Justin Fenech

What happens when a woman becomes pregnant with a child who died a couple of centuries ago?


Rarely Pure And Never Simple

I was sat reading a newspaper in the Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia when I first realized how global the story had gone. Amidst all the news of economic failure, governmental corruption in Madrid, and unending protests in Catalunia, I saw her picture dominating the international section. What a beauty she was as well. She had deep set, hazel eyes, straight black hair and the most symmetrical face you could imagine. It was sheer mathematical poetry.

I ordered myself a jara of beer before I began reading the story. I knew the story intimately, but it took nerves of steel to re-read the 21st century's most Shakespearean of tragedies. When the waiter brought me my small mug of beer he saw me looking at her picture.

“What a horrible woman, no! But pretty, ay.”

“What can you do?”

“Selfish I tell you, selfish.” He mumbled to himself as he walked away. I knew him vaguely but Valencians always made themselves at home in a new stranger’s company. And to think, he spoke English!

The headline quoted her in bold, Baroque Spanish:

Mi dolor es lo mio, nadie mas.” My pain is my own, no one else’s. She wasn’t wrong. But those words and her attitude had made her the world’s greatest pariah. No one knew where she was now, in fact. She had to be taken to a secret location for her own protection. There was never as special a woman as her that has walked the earth.

Maria Davies, a thirty year old daughter of a Basque woman and a Welsh father, was pregnant. She was chosen at random to take part in science’s most daring experiment yet. Now, IVF is controversial enough in itself but scientists had created a means of injecting a man’s semen with a foreign DNA code. Maria was pregnant with a man that had died over a hundred years ago. His DNA code was retrieved, with the descendants permission, from his accidentally mummified body. If that body were discovered in Spain he would have become a saint. In England it made him a candidate for resurrection.

It’s incredible how the human mind is programmed to see patterns and consequences before it sees the situation in the immediate future. When the story was announced the media went wild. We can clone Elvis, Churchill, Richard III, even Hitler! They seemed to gloss over the fact that even if these people were successfully cloned they would not have the memories of the originals. If we had a baby Churchill walking around in the 21st century he would not remember the Second World War. Nonetheless, it was an exciting possibility.

Just imagine...let’s stick with Churchill...if you told him the truth, and you reveal to him what he did during the war. He would be the first human being to ever look at footage of a past self, in the flesh. This was greater even than reincarnation, it was full-blown resurrection.

And the mind wanders; would the clones follow the path their original selves followed back in time? If we cloned Hitler would he too be a racist, and would he enter into politics? It would certainly end the argument between nature and nurture. If it were up to me I would clone two Hitlers. One I would keep in the dark about his past, the other immerse him in Nazism and anti-Semitism. I suspect the Hitler that knew his past would more likely turn out to be the psychopath we were familiar with from history. But, then again, maybe he would be appalled by his past? After all he would be a son of the secular 21st century. He might look on his past with absolute horror, as most Germans do today. It might even have a dangerous affect on his psyche. Maybe the cloned Hitler would also commit suicide?

That raised an obvious moral question: should we play God and clone the dead? There might be implications we can’t begin to imagine. If nature wanted them dead, should they not stay dead? It’s easy to take moral high ground. But, at the end of the day, it is fun playing God. Imagine coming face to face with your teenage grandfather! Children could grow up with their grandparents as their best friends, or their ancient ancestors as their godparents. And what of the mother or father that died when you were a child, wouldn’t you kill to be reunited with them? Or the wife that was taken from you too young, what wouldn’t you give to hold her in your arms again. Assuming you could pull her again!

The world was rightfully excited by this unprecedented possibility. And as such, maybe, you could begin to understand their hostility now. Maria Davies was facing a tragedy countless unnamed women have faced for centuries, but because of her special cargo, hers was amplified to a world-changing degree. Early on in her pregnancy Maria had been suffering from haemorrhages that became progressively worse as the weeks passed. After running several tests the evidence seemed clear. There was around 10% chance that Maria would survive her pregnancy.

Post partum haemorrhage was one of the most common causes of maternal deaths in the world. Its causes are not entirely understood yet the average age of women who suffer from it is between 26 to 37. The good news was that the baby was very likely to survive the pregnancy and experience a normal birth.

When doctors told her the news Maria wept the whole night in that London hospital. She hardly thought a single thought, but when the morning came, she had a target to aim her anger at. Her unnatural child. She began to feel that she was merely a host to some foreign parasite, that was conceived not out of love, but out of man's unbridled ambition. The doctors told her her condition was nothing to do with the baby's conception. What was the cause of it? The doctors merely replied “we cannot say”. Which translated as, “bad luck”.

I would be tempted to say that Maria was now faced with a decision. But she didn't hesitate for a single second. She knew what she had to do. I looked around at the women drinking their coffee around me, young, brunette, and care-free, and wondered: what would they have done in her place?

Maria wanted nothing more than to “destroy” the parasite that threatened her life. Abortion was the sole prerogative of the mother, and she would be damned if anyone would stop her. Now, abortion is not as taboo in England as it is in the Mediterranean. But this wouldn't be an ordinary abortion. The child she would be killing belonged to science, indeed, it belonged to the world. His successful birth could change the face of science, and bring people close to achieving their dreams. Grief could become a thing of the past. But, because of the selfish decision of a spoiled woman, grief seemed destined to linger.

That's how people saw it, anyway. The old debate of the ethics of abortion was re-opened with new fervour. And Maria was at the centre of the maelstrom. She was living a relatively normal life in Cardiff, Wales. Her discovery that she had a life threatening condition was exacerbated by having Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims and even the supposedly tolerant Protestants, holding protests outside her door. They had banners saying “God is life, you have no right”, “Murderer!”, “There is a special hell for Maria Davies”, “What God creates only he can undo”. And many others along the same vein.

Uniquely Maria had managed to do something all history could not achieve: she united the world’s religions. She brought them together under one banner, the one that decried her damned decision.

Although Maria was not a religious person she was deeply hurt by being condemned as evil by most of the world’s major denominations. She considered herself a moral person; kind and loving. She was even a vegetarian. To this end she mustered up the courage to appear on Sky News, to set the record straight, and clarify her decision. She knew she didn’t have to but deep down there was a part of her that enjoyed having the world’s spotlight fixed firmly on her. She was a salesgirl at Morrisons before all this started.

The reporter, a frank, aggressive Irishman, came out of the blocks with his first question:

“Maria, why abortion?”

“I don’t want to die.”

“I’m sure we can all understand that, and a lot of people have great sympathy...”

“I’m not sure they do, Aiden. It certainly doesn’t feel that way.”

“I can assure you. We have had a barrage of tweets from people wishing you well, and offering you their support.”

“There’s more to life than tweeting. It seems to me the people harassing me are braver than those would-be supporters. At least they are making themselves seen not hiding behind a computer screen.”

“Speaking of the people who are harassing you, what would you say to them now?”

“I’m not a vindictive person right. But I hate hypocrisy, and I’m not well, after all. But I have to say, because it angers me so, that I wish they would one day find themselves in the same position I am in. Then we’ll see who has the moral high ground. I am not a believer, you see. But if I were before I certainly wouldn’t be now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“For one thing if there is a God he is a cruel being who has inflicted nothing but misery on me. Secondly, if his followers are capable of condemning a woman for wanting to preserve her God given life, then he is not only cruel but a tyrant.”

“Women have abortions all the time. Especially in the UK. In America you do get the odd abortion clinic being attacked by the religious right but here in Britain it’s a routine affair. Why do you think you are coming in for such stick?”

“It’s obvious, because I’m carrying the future of science, as everyone seems to be saying. As you say abortion has become a norm now. So people of faith would be fighting a losing battle if they spoke out against it. But I presented them with a great opportunity. They can now unite with their old foes, the scientific community, in condemning me, and take the chance to remind the world of the evils of abortion. I see nothing evil in wanting to live. My decision would not have been any different if my child was not who he was.”

“What is your position on abortion? You’re obviously not against it, but you have been rather thrust into it. Do you think mothers who are not endangered by their pregnancies are entitled to an abortion.”

“Not wily nilly, you know. Life is precious, of course it is. But if there are complications, to either the baby or the mother, absolutely. But although the embryo does begin to develop a nervous system after the first trimester, it does not mean it can feel nearly as much pain as a toddler or a child does. And it certainly isn’t conscious. Anyway, it can certainly feel much less pain than an adult pig does. A pig is a sentient, intelligent mammal, and yet we slaughter millions of them each year to make burgers out of the poor animals! So if its inflicting real pain on innocent lives that they're worried about, stop worrying about abortion and worry about the slaughterhouses! And also, with all the overpopulation in the world, women should be encouraged to have abortions. Those women who have been raped or have unwanted children, get rid of them. It is a small evil compared to the perils global overpopulation is leading us to. Of course prevention is better than cure, ideally. I would almost be in favour of an abortion campaign in Africa and India, to not only save children from being born to horrendous lives, but to slow down sky-rocketing population.”

Maria’s arguments went unheard. This wasn’t a Hollywood film where one heart-felt plea swayed the world over to her side. On the contrary, she came in for death threats after her appearance, and wisely decided never to speak to the media again.

In fairness to the religious community it wasn’t just them that criticized Maria. The scientists that worked on the project, that had their eyes fixed on a Nobel prize, openly attacked Maria. There attacks were more humane, but the subtlety did not hide their venom.

“It is unfortunate that she has taken the decision to abort. Her condition, however serious, is not necessarily fatal. Here in London we have the world’s best maternity hospitals and the staff there work miracles. Ms. Davies would have an excellent chance of surviving the pregnancy unharmed. So it is unfortunate that she is depriving the world of such a unique opportunity.” Dr. Williams said in an interview. He was the leader of the research team.

I suppose abortion is wrong. In an ideal world at least. In an ideal world women weren’t raped, embryos didn’t develop without brains, women didn’t haemorrhage. But what can you do? Nature is the four billion year product of perfected selective cruelty. We are no exception. And morality is not an absolute truth. Morality is subjective, and adapts to a situation. That is why we have to judge each case by its merit not by a fixed code. For that all the ten commandments are redundant. ‘Thou shalt not’ �" that demand excludes it from being morally viable. You can never say never. What of the more logical and rational of commandments? Thou shalt not kill? Surely that is fair? But what if a murderer was pointing a gun at your wife and child? Or if he was attacking you with a knife? Or he was threatening to kill a Palestinian diplomat threatening a war between the Middle East and the West? I think it is fair to say that killing in such circumstances would be perfectly moral.

Yes abortion is wrong. But it is even more wrong to let an otherwise healthy woman die. It is wrong to let a fertile woman able to reproduce again die. And it is far more wrong to kill a sentient, feeling, conscious woman, to save a thing that looks more like a fish than a human being. Everything has to be weighed up. It might sound cold and calculating, but what better hope of doing the right thing do we have if not by reasoning?

Although, it is never easy to predict what consequences a seemingly moral act could have. Maria did have her abortion. Baron Alfred Harrow was killed at the age of minus three months. His second death was far less painful than his first. He had originally died of a cancer in his eye. Something which modern medicine might have been able to prevent. But modern medicine had failed him twice.

Maria survived the abortion without any difficulty. Most women are traumatized by it, but Maria felt relieved, as if she had had a malignant tumour removed. She was determined to start her life again, to live to the full. She wanted to become a veterinarian, and with her newfound fame what could stop her? She wanted to travel the world helping sick animals everywhere, and her mother said she was always good at numbers, so she had a sound scientific head on her shoulders. She didn’t want to marry, she had made that mistake once, but she did want to have a child �" even after all she’d been through. She is a remarkable woman.

But she had underestimated the storm she had brewed. She had become too vilified, and her face too well known, for her to live a normal life. Instead of university letters she got death threats. Instead of travelling the world she travelled all over Wales from one safe house to the next. Instead of fame she got spat on in the streets. After a few years of such a claustrophobic existence she fell into a horrible depression. She turned to alcohol and became addicted to her medication. She was utterly destroyed.

By the time the world had begun to forget about her, when she had some hope of leading a normal life, she was an agoraphobic addict living in a rehabilitation centre. It pains me to say it, but she died a far worse death than her unborn child. It would have been better if she was spared all this. The logical, ethical decision she took, was, perhaps, the wrong one. Yet it was done in the best of faiths.

No, how can I say that? It was not her decision that was wrong. It was the decision of the good believers of this world to make her life a living misery that was wrong. That Good Old Religion had claimed yet another victim. And she was so beautiful.

Ten years after all this happened, I went to see her in her rehabilitation centre in Cardiff. I had to go through an unbelievable amount of security checks, it felt as if I was visiting a serial killer. But it was for her safety, I suppose. I wanted to see her because I wanted to give her some good news. I had read that she was being kept from it for the sake of her sanity, but I felt that knowing the truth would help cure her of some of her demons. Luckily, the nurses left the two of us alone.

“Darling, is that you?” She said with a weak voice, her eyes sunken, her skin pale.

“It’s been awhile since you called me darling. Last time you saw me I was a son of a b***h.”

“It was my pet name for you, wasn’t it? We were always rough to each other.”

“That’s why we divorced.”

“Oh no don’t let’s talk about that. Why are you here? No never mind. I missed you.”

“You don’t look too well, Maria.” I said my eyes almost welling up at her appalling condition.

“Oh no I’m fine, tip top. How is Spain, Brian?”

“Broke and sunny. But it’s wonderful. I’ve moved to Malaga now.”

“That’s lush, Brian. I’ve missed you. Where have you been all these years?”

“Watching.” It pained me to see what they had done to my ex-wife. Before me I saw a beauty transformed into a ghoul, all at the behest of God almighty and his angry flock. If only people had as much reason and empathy as my Maria had. She could have had a normal life then. “Listen Maria, I want to tell you something.”

“Is it about Spain?”

“No. It’s something bigger.”

“I like big news. It’s lush.”

“Do you remember the name of your unborn child?” I hesitated to speak with such candour. I didn’t know if she was stable enough to hear it. But she would have wanted to hear it. She deserves this much.

“Why yes, darling. Baron Alfred Harrow. Why do you ask?”

“He has just been born to a certain Julia Davenport, a young woman from Norwich.”

“Isn’t that lovely. I’m happy for her really I am. I hope he dies horribly. But I’m happy for her, really.”

“Why do you say that?”

“What would you say to a man who lived three times?”

“You’re not wrong.” She was absolutely not wrong. Even in her deranged naivety she made sense. It’s not natural is it? What kind of world would we be living in now? People think they can now overcome grief by resurrecting their dead. But grief will never be overcome. The dangers of this whole bloody endeavour are incalculable. What are the dangers? I don’t know. But neither do they. Mankind has been too hasty, once again. The scientists that made the so-called miracle possible were as blinded as the faithful that hounded Maria. They were not blinded by faith, they were blinded by ambition. They were far too focused on the how to even think of the why. Whenever a decision is taken on the basis of a shrug and a ‘why not’, bad things were bound to happen.

If only they were as courageous and as sincere as Maria.  

© 2014 Justin Fenech

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Added on February 12, 2014
Last Updated on February 12, 2014
Tags: abortion, clone, cloning, pregnancy, Spain


Justin Fenech
Justin Fenech

Hamrun , Malta

I am a 25 year old writer from the Mediterranean Island of Malta. I see writing as a civilizng force that plays a vital role in a democratic, enlightened society. I read and idolize Hemingway, Fitz.. more..