The fate of the temple's fetus morgue

A few days ago, we looked at a startling story from Thailand where 2,000 dead fetuses from illegal abortion clinics were found at a Buddhist temple. The story indicated that monks were not aware of what was taking place, but there were inevitable implications for the temple.

The New York Times published new stories today, including one that suggested the morgue will be torn down to be replaced by a meditation center.

The fetuses are to be cremated after autopsies are performed and members of the public, expected to number in the thousands, gather at the temple on Saturday as monks chant Buddhist prayers of mourning.

Since the fetuses' discovery, people have been placing offerings of milk, baby clothes and toys at the temple morgue.

We also read about a woman who adopted eight children that survived abortions. The earlier story omitted part of a quote where she described her aborting babies as a "sin." We had some good comments discussing her reaction, especially in the context of a primarily Buddhist country.

John Willard said:

I would have liked a closer examination of what this woman means by sin. Did she use that word or is it the reporters translation? What does sin, or its equivalent, mean in a buddhist context?

Jerry added:

The story did not identify her as a Buddhist so perhaps she is a member of another religion. Or perhaps she's using the word 'sin' in a secular sense since Buddhism does not have a theological concept of sin. Still, it is a good question.

The latest story from the Times includes the full quote from the woman, Lanchakorn Janthamanas, who appears to contradict her mother.

"I am proud of my daughter for her contribution to society," said the mother, Sombat Sinotho, 60, speaking of the abortions she had performed. "Only those who have not faced the problem of an unwanted pregnancy tend to view her as evil."

Ms. Lanchakorn said she had rescued eight fetuses that had survived the procedure and was now raising them as her own adopted children. "I commit sin every day," she said, "so if the kids won't die, there's no need to kill them."

Her mother said she had only learned from newspaper accounts that they were the survivors of abortions.

The mother and daughter's religious backgrounds are still unclear and might shed more light on how they react to abortion. We also talked about how the story could explain a Buddhist view of abortion, which could vary. The new story explores that further.

The penalty for performing an illegal abortion is as many as five years in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or about $330. The penalty increases if the abortion seriously injures the pregnant woman.

But the penalties may be higher in the spiritual realm.

"In Buddhist view, both having an abortion and performing an abortion amount to murder," said Phramaha Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi, a leading monk who was quoted on Saturday in Post Today, a Thai-language newspaper. "It is a serious sin." He added: "Those involved in abortions will face distress in both this life and the next because their sins will follow them."

What's unclear is whether this is the majority belief among Buddhist leaders and whether it's specific to Thailand. The other interesting development was the ceremonies that took place for the aborted fetuses.

An official of the Buddhist hierarchy here said temple ceremonies were in effect ceremonies of mourning.

"We have to look at its purpose: to show compassion for the souls of the aborted fetuses and lead them to rest in peace," said Amnart Buasiri, director of the Secretariat of the Sangha Supreme Council. "It is considered the same as the mass mourning for tsunami victims."

The story suggests that there could be political implications from the discovery. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is quoted as saying, "Longstanding social values must be corrected." Those "social values" are still unclear. The Nation newspaper offers some new details about how the laws could shift as a result of the nation-wide discussion.

The Senate yesterday opposed the widely discussed legal amendment that eases the conditions for legal abortion, saying that systematic and effective sex education would be a better way to deal with the issue.

...Senator Phornphan Bunyarattaphan said the bill focused on preventative measures, cultural awareness and education on effective birth-control methods.

The bill also requires government-run facilities to accommodate young mothers as well as to provide them and their newborn with free healthcare and free birth control.

The evolving story offers reporters a number of ways to explore this from a political, cultural, ethical angles. Given the discovery at a Buddhist temple, the religion angles are just too difficult to ignore.

Please respect our Commenting Policy