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Lives less valued

About a week ago, a baby with two heads was born in Maputo. Its parents are young, in their early 20s, poor and little educated. After the birth, mother and baby were placed into separate wards in Maputo’s central hospital — a public hospital with few facilities and even fewer experts. While the mother was in a regular ward, the baby was put into the intensive-care unit, out of the public eye but also separated from its parents.

A few days after its birth, doctors operated on the baby and removed its second head — without the knowledge or permission of the parents. After the operation, the mother was moved into the intensive-care unit to be able to be with her child. It was only then that she learnt about the operation her baby had undergone.

She was not given details about the procedure. She was not shown the X-rays. Nobody explained to her what was going on. She wasn’t told if all her baby’s organs have grown correctly and if the head was the only body part that had been duplicated. All she could do was sit next to the tiny, bandaged body of her baby and hope it would survive.

A friend of mine, who works in the hospital, told me this was the hospital’s typical way of handling difficult cases. Too proud to ask for help from international specialists, they are kept secret. If the operation goes wrong, it can be covered up easily. If it goes well, the hospital will publicise the success.

What is lost on the way are ethics, human dignity and human rights. To operate on a newborn — or any child — without the parents’ permission or knowledge is an appalling violation of their rights. It is done to the poor, the less educated, those who don’t know their rights, don’t know how to fight for them and don’t have the financial means to defend them.

They are reduced to society’s guinea pigs. Their lives are valued less than the lives of those who have more knowledge, money and power. Unfortunately, this is not a singular case — many such stories can be found wherever there is poverty. It is an indicator for the unfortunate fact that our society continues to pay lip-service to equality, non-discrimination and civil liberties.