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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Children Act-- review

Last week I reluctantly borrowed the novel, The Children Act by Ian McEwen. My reluctance stemmed from two sources; the first being that the last McEwen novel I read was unsatisfactory. I was not a fan of Sweet Tooth. The second was that the thumbnail sketch of the novel sounded a little too much like a Jodi Picoult—issue of the month-- plot line.

After looking over many of the new books on the library shelves, of which I have read or tried to read in recent weeks, I was left looking at The Children Act.

The main topic in this book, as it is set out on the flyleaf, is the right of a judge to overrule the wishes of both parents and patient concerning medical treatment as formed by religious views. In this case Jehovah Witness precepts that hold blood transfusions are not in keeping with God's will.

Last week this was a particularly interesting issue in Canada. A very similar case was heard in Ontario; an aboriginal family withdrew their 11-year-old child from chemotherapy treatment and was taken to court by the hospital that had been treating the child. The hospital lost the case on grounds of aboriginal rights; a ruling that is surely groundbreaking and most likely will result in the death of the child in question.

But the issue that this novel tackles that intrigued me more than the flagged topic de jour was the responsibility we have to those whose lives we either create or extend through our intervention. There is a proverb that is most often attributed to the Chinese that if you save a man's life you are henceforth responsible for that life.

Spoiler alert

In this novel the intervention of the judge saves the life of the boy but leaves him in a spiritual vacuum; one that sets him in opposition to his family and his community as a whole. He has survived but he no longer has a connection to his world—he is a drift.

He predictably seeks love and belonging from the only source that seems to understand him-- the judge. Her rebuff of his attention and need results in predictable consequences.

I believe that children's welfare relies, in some cases, on the state. In this novel the judge has made the correct decision. What she fails to do is monitor the resulting fall out. In such a case an alternate support system is necessary for the recovering child. When one's entire belief system is challenged-- a replacement needs to be ready at hand.

I have seen this play out in the life of an acquaintance of mine many years ago. She was a staunch believer in the Chinese Government; a native of Kunming province. She detested the liars and revolutionaries in Beijing and told me that Tiananmen did not really happen; at least not as the Western media had portrayed it.

When I knew this loyal Chinese citizen she was a fellow classmate of mine in Bangkok. Without the control of the party she soon started to see things she could not explain; knocking down the walls of her prejudiced perception. I was not surprised when she came to class one day and told me that she had been 'SAVED'. She traded one ideology for another. Several months later she left her new religious cadre; adrift. I don't know what happened to her, over the years we lost touch, but when I read this book I thought of her grasping at the edge of a new raft in an unknown sea.

In the end, although I was not interested in the topic of morality in medical decisions, I was drawn into this novel as it explored the failure of the judge to recognize and take responsibility for the identity chaos she created in the young protagonist.

I read this novel in one evening, skimming over the sections relating to the marital difficulties of the judge although these do pertain to my current interest in the mid-life crisis; which I think I am entering at astounding speed. It was time well-spent but not necessarily focussing on the obvious theme.

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