I SHARE Cardinal Hume's anxiety that if pregnant women are screened for the AIDS virus, and are found to be serol positive, they may be put under pressure to agree to abortion (April 3).
However, I feel bound to remind his Eminence, that there is another group of women involved, who would also appreciate his concern.
For every woman who becomes a mother, there is another one, who shadows her throughout pregnancy, labour and the puerperium. She is the midwife, a professional, whose raison d'etre is the health and care of mother and baby.
The midwife's clientele are young, sexually active women, many of whom, in areas like my own, may be drug addicts.
If we are to be refused the opportunity to discover whether or not our patients are carriers of the virus, we will face an increasing risk of becoming infected ourselves. To "know thine enemy" allows for measures to be taken to resist succumbing to its wiles.
In my own area of practice about 4,500 confinements take place annually. All these women will have received some antenatal care front a midwife, who will have obtained blood specimens for a variety of tests.
They will also have had a midwife in attendance during labour and delivery, dealing with excretions, amaiotic fluid and the inevitable blood loss involved.
Finally they will have been attended by a midwife during the post-natal period, when breast-feeding may be established (the virus being carried in human milk).
As anyone who has produced a child will confirm, the contact between midwife and mother involves intimate procedures. Occassionally in the past midwives contracted syphilitic sores on their hands during their attendance on infected women — though unfortunate they could be effectively treated with antibiotics. Unhappily, as we are well aware, no effective treatment for AIDS is yet available.
Pregnant women need midwives, perhaps even more than they realise. Midwives wish to use their expertise in caring for them, but there is a groundswell of opinion amongst us that for this unique partnership to survive, we must not be left in the dark, vulnerable in our ignorance.
Joan Hannan SRN.SCM Birkenhead Wirral