Death’s on my mind at the moment, not least because of a funeral later this week. It’ll be a joyful celebration of a funeral (hopefully) for a life well-lived and well-loved where we’ve been instructed to come in bright colours and wellies and to carry daffodils as we meet up in the forest where she will be buried.
But last night, I came up against another sort of death. The documentary, A Quiet Inquisition, is about the challenges faced by doctors in the public hospitals in Nicaragua now that even therapeutic abortions have been banned. Do they try to save the mother, or obey the law to the letter and refuse to ‘interrupt’ an unhealthy pregnancy, even when both mother and child will then be at risk?
The film was quiet only in the respect it showed to the patients and doctors it portrayed. We saw them opening up to each other in a way that made me think the directing was masterly. At no stage did you feel the camera was intruding even in this very private moment, although obviously all those portrayed had given their permission to be filmed. Which was important, given that in some cases, they could be prosecuted. Part of the problem is that the girls – some we saw were as young as thirteen – had tried to end their pregnancies, but were too scared to tell the doctors because it was illegal. How could the doctors then know what to do to save their lives? The doctor above, Dr Carla Ceratto, was definitely the star of the film. Faced sometimes with up to 60 patients a day, she remained personal and open to what they were going through. And it’s important to remember that the women coming to her were emergency cases; she wasn’t looking after normal healthy pregnancies. Her vocation is truly one of love. She wasn’t against the government at all, in fact we heard how she could only become a doctor at all because of the revolution in 1979 and the subsequent government by the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Times change though, and Dr Ceratto has treated women both when abortion was legal, and now it is not. It was wonderful to see such a brave, caring and altogether human doctor on screen, and yet also chilling to see how political decisions can affect lives so clearly. Obviously we know they do – look at our NHS – but the lack of emotion over the consequences to ordinary people really hit home when I watched a thirteen year old pregnant girl on screen try to hide her fear over what might happen to her.
And she’s not alone. Here are some figures from the Pulitzer Centre: In Nicaragua the number of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 who give birth has risen by 48 percent since 2000, according to government statistics. One in every four births here is to a girl between the ages of 15 and 19. It is young women, especially those in poor rural regions, who suffer most under this law.
Throughout the film, the focus was not on whether abortion was right or wrong, but instead how the medical profession copes when they have to bring in legal issues to their calling of saving lives. I left thinking of both the individuals in the film and also the wider issue of law and medicine.
The film is directed by Holen Sabrina Kahn and Alessandra Zeka, both seen in the middle above during the Q&A. It is truly a work of love as I can testify – having been with Holen WAY BACK in 2006 when she got the call that they had received their first chunk of funding. Now, nearly ten years later, the film can be seen. It’s on tonight, Thursday 26th March, at the Ritzy Brixton as part of the Human Rights Film Festival – tickets here, but will also be available more publicly from the end of April. You can follow the website for more information.
And on the way to the screening, another look at death. This time the wall of tributes to those who have died saving the lives of others at the Postman’s Park, near St Pauls. I’ve been so often, I now have my favourite. Here he is, not forgotten.