By Daniela Lazarova
Lennart Nilssons' exibition documenting the miracle of life is attracting
thousands of visitors - many of the photos of fetuses in the womb at different
stages of development were made at a Prague Clinic. The Marie Antonia
Hospital in Ostrava offers women reassurance in place of abortions. Respekt
tells the story in an article entitled "Come and have a good cry".
And, at a time when the number of young drug addicts in the Czech Republic is
on the rise should an available 40 million crowns be used to build new sports
stadiums or help sustain existing Drop In centres? Parliament has voted for the
former. Those are some of the stories in this weeks magazines.
Lennart Nilsson's photographs documenting the birth of a new life are well
known the world over. The first appeared in 1953 and, as the best-known
records of the birth of life on our planet, a collection of them was placed on
board the Voyager space probe in 1977 as mankind's message to other
civilizations. Nilsson's second exhibition entitled "The Miracle of Life" has just
opened in Prague, documenting the birth of life from the moment of conception
- photographed in the process of artificial insemination outside the human body- through the crucial weeks of its formation, as seen through an endoscope, a
thin instrument projected into the womb which doctors used to observe the fetus
from every angle before they had ultrasound equipment and which is still used
in operations. By the end of the 80s doctors in Sweden were using ultrasound
exclusively for examinations, so Lennart Nilsson had to visit a foreign clinic and
the Endoscopic Society in London recommended Prof. Zwinger's Clinic in
Prague. All the mothers-to-be he approached agreed to cooperate and Nilsson
left Prague with the photographs he wanted. There were follow-ups. Tomas
Kostelecky was photographed at 16 weeks in the womb, at birth and recently at
age ten. Lidove Noviny Magazine, which has run a riveting collection of
Nilssens' photos, carries a brief interview with the ten-year-old. Asked whether he minded having his picture taken in the womb Tom responded straight-faced:
"No I was getting on with my job then - if they wanted to see how, that's OK by
Meanwhile, Lennart Nilsson was asked whether his photos were used by anti-abortion activists. "They are, and nobody has even bothered to ask permission,"
he responded. Asked how he felt about the issue Nilsson said, "I am neither
strictly for nor against. It's up to the individual woman. I just make pictures and
let people reach their own conclusions." Having said that, the weekly's reporter ascertained that Mr. Nilsson has twelve children of his own, so I'll leave it there
and let you make your own conclusions too.
Staying with the subject of abortions, a newly privatized hospital in Ostrava
has shocked many of its women patients by announcing a new policy: no more
abortions or contraception. In a country where abortions are legal the decision
has come as something of a surprise. The Health Ministry made it clear that it
did not approve of the policy in view of the fact that women in that region
deserved to have the same option as millions of others around the country.
However this is a private institution and there is nothing we can do, a Health
Ministry spokesman told Respekt.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the hospital said, "we want to send out a clear message that we support life over death." Asked what advice the hospital offers teenage mothers-to-be who find themselves in
trouble and unable to bring up a child, the spokesman said, "we offer them
reassurance, psychological advice, spiritual guidance and impress upon them
that there are higher values than education and social standing." The dean of the
local university and the town's mayor both support the decision. "The people
who live hereabouts live a tough life, they work in mines or factories and
poverty abounds," the dean said. "They don't have much time for things spiritual and it is time someone introduced that extra dimension into their lives."
Challenged as to what he would say confronted with a teenage girl who wanted
an abortion the dean responded: "I'd tell her our values were different from hers."
The town mayor was even more blunt. He promptly rejected the interviewer's
suggestion that, given the present circumstances, it might be a good idea to open
an asylum for young single mothers in the district. "Certainly not," he told
Respekt. "These women should think ahead whether they want a child or not. Not just pick up someone on a street corner and then come crying to us for
help." Can even the tough women of that area stand that tough an approach?
Obviously not all. Many of them have promptly found new doctors elsewhere.
They'll have to travel further afield but they'll retain the right of choice.
Leafing through the pages of Health magazine, I ran into a much-publicized
dilemma. With only so much money to spare, do you help addicts or protect
others from the same fate? An EU-funded study among Czech school-goers
aged 15 to 19 has revealed an alarming rise in drug abuse. Fifteen thousand
young people are dependant on heroin or pervitin, a homemade Czech drug
which many experts consider to be more dangerous than heroin. 128 thousand
youngsters were found to take drugs now and then. And a third of those
screened have experimented. Since 1995 the number of young people on hard
drugs has grown by 200%. This would seem reason enough to put more money
into Drop In centres and other institutions where addicts can seek help or
counseling. However, the order of the day is "cut back on finances wherever
possible" and so Parliament, after much consideration, voted to spend 40 million
crowns initially meant for drug help centres on the construction of sports
stadiums, outdoor courts and other sports facilities. There's been a loud clamor
of protest from drug experts who say many drug centres will have to be closed
down and there will not be money for the salaries of those workers who hand
out clean needles and collect abandoned ones in parks and playgrounds.
If you are thinking how absurd this is I have news for you. Not everyone agrees. In fact
there's been many a heated debate among Czechs as to whether the money
should go to help the ailing or save others following the same path. The second
argument is based on the fact that alcohol consumption among teenagers is also
on the rise, and many people feel that sports could be a potent weapon against
both alcohol and drugs. The "give them something else to do with their time"
philosophy in a nutshell. Can it really help? Well, the decision has been made;
the sports facilities will be built and so it is only a question of time before we know the answer to that.
Meanwhile, members of the government's anti-drugs
commission and experts involved in aid work are preparing to lobby in
Parliament for the extra money which they badly need. Many are openly critical
of what they call "incompetent decisions made by desk-bound MPS", pointing
out that clean needles mean a significantly lower AIDS risk. And can you pit
sports stadiums against that?
Finally, in a related article, the same weekly notes that the Lower House has
voted down a proposal for flu medicine containing the substance effedrin, such
as Modafen and Stopgrip, to be available only on prescription. This particular
over-the-counter medicine is used by addicts to produce the homemade pervitin,
which I mentioned earlier. The proposal to put them on the prescription-only list
was voted down on the grounds that the flu medicine is widely used during flu
epidemics and that it contains only a small amount of the mentioned substance.
There was also a thumbs down on a proposal to restrict the use of Rohypnol, by
allowing it be prescribed by specialist only, not GPs. Rohypnol is a potent
sleeping drug and easily abused. However, the majority of MPS were against it,
pointing out that a great many elderly people use Rohypnol for sleep-related
problems and it would be nonsensical to send them to a specialist for it instead
of getting it from their local GP. In other words, it will be left to chemists to be
on the look-out for potential abusers. Most say the accepted practice among
them is if you see someone suspicious-looking, call the doctor and check out the
prescription. As one of them says, "Usually they're out the door before I finish dialing the number."
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