Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

Freebirthing and the ethics of judgement

In Ethics on June 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

In many ways ethics can be about making judgements or assessment about what is right or wrong, good or bad. But are all judgements the same?

Recently there has been an ongoing story in the press about a mother who lost her child in during a freebirth. This event was naturally a deeply tragic one for her and her family, despite the apparent non-recognition of this in the news. The coroner’s inquest and associated media coverage was a rampage of judgement to condemn this mother for what had occurred for her.

What amazed me was the total lack of compassion for the mother and her loss. As if losing her child was not enough pain, a number of people saw it best to condemn her for it. This ‘double punishment’ seemed to be built on the principle that judgement and condemnation is the perfect right of anyone, and there are no situations by which judgement should be tempered with empathy or compassion.

In our modern world, we have a tendency to judge all matters with a scientific lens, as if all matters are purely scientific. Birthing seems to have become a medical procedure rather than a rite of passage or important life event. Is it though? Should we really boil all things down to simple scientific views. Life has far greater complexities that warrant looking beyond simplistic viewpoints, binary answers, or clear cut rights or wrongs. And just because we were all born once, does that make us experts in making determinations about how others should give birth?

It it not surprising that we are so good at judgement. Despite mainstream spiritual teachings being grounded in compassion and love, contemporary interpretations often speak of a ‘judgmental’ God or Judgement Day. Even the process of interpreting spiritual teachings is less about sharing perceptions than it is about making definitive judgements. Our modern day school system also teaches judgement from the early years, with performance rankings, rights, wrongs and strong labeling of children around their talents, skills and supposed deficiencies.

In many ways we live amongst a world of judgement. Do we learn however to make distinctions between different types of judgements?

It is one thing to make a judgement of ourselves, or indeed make a judgement of a situation in terms of whether it is safe or good for us. Are these judgements that we make of and for ourselves ethically the same as making judgements of others?

When is it right to make judgements of others? When is it that another person’s actions or life crosses into our territory?

I can understand situations like murder, stealing or other actions that encroach directly on the freedoms or space of others. Does the situation of home birthing really do that? Here is a choice made by a mother about having the best possible birth experience. In this case it did not work out the way it was planned. There is a load of evidence that home birthing is a healthy, effective and safe choice for families.

In this particular case, some might say that in making judgements they were defending the rights of the child. There are equally tragic stories to death, pain, loss of dignity and intrusion into a child or woman’s rights in the mainstream birthing or medical field. These situations are rarely treated with the same level of significance or judgement that has occurred in this case around freebirthing. Just because mainstream hospital birthing has greater legal and social acceptance than home birthing, doesn’t make it ethically better.

Do we make these distinctions in our responses because one is actually better than another?

Or is it because the one who is making the judgement holds different values?

How much do our values interfere with making clean and objective ethical determinations?

In sitting here and writing, I cannot say that I am an expert in either homebirthing, freebirthing nor a hospital approach. There may be a number of factors which I am not aware of which, if I had more awareness, would lead me to think differently about this situation. But this is my point. It really does not matter what I know or don’t know in some situations. Just because I have the capacity to make a judgement, it doesn’t make it right for me to share it, declare it or force it on others.

Where a situation doesn’t warrant my opinion or judgement, I hope that I am able to practice discretion, compassion and empathy by keeping it to myself. I hope to allow people the spiritual freedom to live their lives and make their choices. I know that is what I would like from others.

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  1. I want to acknowledge that when I first wrote this article I conflated homebirthing and freebirthing. It was pointed out by an early reader that there are strong distinctions between the two, including the associated ethical dimensions. I subsequently revised this article to clarify that.
    That aside, the article is not about making judgements of either. It hopefully explores the idea of how we judge others in any situation – I think this has relevance beyond the birthing field.
    Thanks @KezNoo for bringing that to my attention
    Benny

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