Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kitchy kitchy coo? You're nicked

It's hard to resist the outcry about Calderdale Royal Hospital attempting to ban visitors from cooing at babies. The Daily Mail - the only place to go for stories like this - reports:

Staff in one of the wards have put up a display of a doll in a cot with a message saying: "What makes you think I want to be looked at?"

Channel 4 news adds:
Cards were handed out to visitors stating: "Respect my baby" and underneath, as if written by a baby, are the words: "My parents ask you to treat my personal space with consideration."
Why have they done this? The BBC quotes Debbie Lawson, neo-natal manager at the hospital's special care baby unit, as saying:

"We know people have good intentions and most people cannot resist cooing over new babies but we need to respect the child.

"Cooing should be a thing of the past because these are little people with the same rights as you or me."

A story somehow typical of 21st century Britain. Note three things.

First, it is true that other people poking and clucking over your baby can be annoying. (I take the reference to the possibility of infection as a later rationalisation of this policy, though there may be something in it.) Yet the assumption made by the hospital authorities is that mothers are incapable of making this clear to visitors or passers by themselves. Instead we must have standardised regulations imposed on all.

I am with Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, quoted by the BBC report:
"Calderdale Royal Hospital needs to treat mothers as grown ups. Mother should be able to say what she wants to happen with her baby."
Second, note the extraordinarily sententious tone of the signs used to advertise this policy: "What makes you think I want to be looked at?" (Incidentally, how could a baby sensibly be said to want or not want to be looked at?) "Treat my personal space with respect." It's halfway between North Korea and those signs people put in cars when they are carrying children. The thought that looking at babies can give people pleasure is nowhere allowed for.

Third, note how easy it is to talk nonsense when you introduce the notion of rights. Babies, we are told, "are little people with the same rights as you or me".

It is certainly not true in law that babies have the same rights as adults. They can't buy a drink in a pub or drive or own a shotgun. Indeed, it is hard to see that it makes sense to ascribe many rights to a baby at all.

You can say that they have a right to kind treatment, but it is hard to see what that adds to saying that it is wrong to be cruel to babies. Later on, you could, I suppose, give children the same right as adults to decide what time they go to bed, but that would hardly be in the children's interests or anyone else's.

When rights enter the conversation our culture seems unable to make sensible distinctions between adults and infants. You would hope that, of all people, a "neo-natal manager" would have a clear idea of what babies are like, but apparently this is not the case here.


Apollo Project said...

Jonathon, of course you are right.

Still, as a parent of twins, I often think a little more respect for their personal space would be appropriate...


Anonymous said...

I wonder if what (perhaps unconsciously) motivates this sort of thing isn't so much the "rights" of babies, but those of parents. As society becomes more atomised (a cliche I normally hate, but still), children grow up not so much as part of a community but, to put it a bit melodramatically, as the property of their parents. Is it perhaps that conception which is really being protected here?