A Gynecologist for Bhaktivedanta Hospital
by Kalakantha Dasa
Madhavananda Dasa, a physician and an administrator at the new Bhaktivedanta Hospital in suburban Mumbai, needed help. He sought physicians for the new multi-service hospital who were both highly competent and dedicated to the spiritual principles of the hospital's honored namesake, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In particular, Madhavananda knew that the hospital, built on principles of the Bhagavad-gita, needed a gynecology director who would accept the sanctity of all life, including the unborn. Such a gynecologist would be a tough find in populous India, where for population control the government had for decades vigorously promoted abortion in medical colleges.
Madhavananda decided to start by determining the gynecology candidates' medical credentials. He invited Dr. Mahendra K. Patel, one of India's leading gynecologists, to assist him.
Dr. Patel, born and raised in Mumbai, had dedicated himself to gynecology early in life, when a young relative in his village died of complications from an abortion. Eventually Dr. Patel graduated first in his class of four hundred from medical school, assuring his posting to his chosen specialty.
While Dr. Patel was attending college, abortion was illegal in India. Still, many doctors in his college's gynecology department wanted to perform abortions to help mothers from large poor families who could not afford more children. The doctors also sought to save prostitutes, who sometimes lost their lives trying to abort their babies. But the department head, a Catholic, refused to allow the procedure. Then, in 1971, just as Dr. Patel was graduating, the Indian government legalized abortion. The young doctors were free to offer the procedure up to the fifth month of pregnancy.
Abortions performed up to the third month of pregnancy are simple to perform and relatively safe for the mother. But after the third month, the procedures required increase the danger to the mother. The young, vigorous Dr. Patel became a specialist in late-term abortions. His research resulted in improved, safer methods for late-term abortions that are still used in India and surrounding countries. In recognition of his work, Dr. Patel was eventually elected general secretary of the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology Societies of India (FOGSI). With 130 branches and over 16,000 participating doctors, FOGSI is India's largest such organization. During his quarter-century career, Dr. Patel performed thirty thousand abortions and guided others in performing millions more.
When Madhavananda asked Dr. Patel to chair the committee to review gynecology candidates, Dr. Patel agreed. Besides his highly evolved medical knowledge, Dr. Patel had been studying the Bhagavad-gita with followers of Srila Prabhupada. So he was also conversant with the new hospital's spiritual principles.
Twenty-seven candidates applied for the post. As the interviews unfolded, each candidate expressed shock upon learning that the new hospital would not allow abortions. Madhavananda and other staff members patiently and frankly explained the Krsna conscious view that life comes from God alone and to take it improperly is sinful. They said the solution to poverty and disease lies in spiritual education, not in abortion, a procedure laden with karma for all involved.
A Change Of Heart
Dr. Patel was deeply impressed to see Madhavananda's firm insistence on principles often disregarded even in Catholic hospitals. After coming up with a short list of recommended candidates, Dr. Patel decided to approach Madhavananda with a different proposition.
"Why don't you ask me?" said Dr. Patel. "If you ask me, I will take the post."
Madhavananda and his staff were astonished. The post paid less and was far less prestigious than his current position. But Dr. Patel assured them he was sincere and would abide by the hospital's "no abortion and no contraception" policy in his practice both in and out of the hospital. Madhavananda gratefully agreed.
Now resigned from his position at FOGSI, Dr. Patel has successfully directed the Bhaktivedanta Hospital gynecology department for the past four years.
"At this stage of my career it is naturally difficult for me to admit it," says Dr. Patel, perhaps India's best-known abortion practitioner, "but I can no longer tolerate the destruction of the unborn. Through Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam I have come to understand that the eternal soul enters the womb to take a birth according to his past karma. Although temporary and full of suffering like other species, human life alone allows the soul a chance to understand God. One who aborts that precious birth shares in an enormous sin with those who cause the abortion to be performed.
"Given my background, I am quite blessed to serve at Bhaktivedanta Hospital. I wish to dedicate the rest of my life to promoting the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and discrediting the materialistic notion of sinless abortion."
To pursue this cause, Dr. Patel has counseled over four hundred abortion applicants at Bhaktivedanta Hospital to reconsider their decision. Many have decided to keep their babies, five of whom Dr. Patel delivered. "Five beautiful children," he declares with a smile.
Dr. Patel has developed an anti-abortion presentation that he takes to educational institutions and service organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, and Giants International. Given his national renown and background, audiences find Dr. Patel's presentation quite persuasive. "We cannot keep all the invitations," he says modestly.
Recently, Dr. Patel received this letter from Dr. K. C. Aneja, one of India's leading cardiologists and president of the Bharat Vikas Parishad, an organization with five hundred branches: "It is heartening that the hospital has started an anti-abortion campaign. Dr. Patel convinced us that life is the Lord's gift. On behalf of the members and myself, we thank you and wish you success in this project to motivate the people. We extend our full cooperation." Dr. Aneja and others have encouraged Dr. Patel to take up his campaign on a national scale.
In India more than 35,000 abortions take place every day, enough to replace the population of Australia every two years. Most major religions oppose abortion, yet it goes on widely in India and throughout the world. Why? Dr. Patel explains.
"People fear overpopulation," he says, "but if God gives birth, He has made provision. Besides, if a population burden justifies murdering children, why not kill old people, retarded children, or the chronically ill? Srila Prabhupada says the earth can support many times more people than it does now. The real problem is unequal distribution of land and food. Leaders should address that problem rather than inducing people to kill their own children."
What about in cases of rape?
"Pregnancy in rape is terribly tragic," says Dr. Patel, "but does saving your shame justify sacrificing a life? Which is more important? Besides, the demand for adoption is high, even in India. On average twenty percent of married couples are infertile, including five percent who do not respond to medical help. This five percent corresponds to millions of childless couples who would gladly adopt children.
"Abortion is patently unnatural. The concept of medically aided abortion is only a hundred years old—the product of unrestricted sex in a promiscuous age. A baby killed in the womb has been murdered. To demonstrate this point, our presentation includes a graphic, shocking depiction of a late-term abortion.
"The eternal soul enters and gives life to the body at the moment of conception, not at the age of three months," Dr. Patel concludes. "Since medical science cannot duplicate the life in the body, medical science has no right to take it.
"From Srila Prabhupada's books I have learned that every child is a gift of God. Life must be respected," he says. "And I have learned the hard way that abortion is murderous and leads to disaster and unhappiness. Abortion must stop."
In the coming months Dr. Patel will continue to give talks and conduct seminars at women's organizations and youth forums. He has enlisted several doctors, nurses, medical students, and social workers as volunteers in a training program for counselors. They will spread the anti-abortion message in greater Mumbai.
Dr. Patel and his helpers are about to launch a media campaign that will include banners in city streets and colorful stickers in the crowded ladies compartments and station platforms of Mumbai's suburban railway. Also to come are press articles in the national newspapers and magazines, debates on television and radio, and a video explaining the details and ill effects of abortion.
Says Dr. Patel as we part, "We have to take this message far out to cover the entire nation. It's a mammoth job, and I'm seeking the blessings and help of all Vaishnavas everywhere."
Kalakantha Dasa (Carl Woodham), author of The Song Divine (a lyrical rendition of the Bhagavad-gita), lives in Gainesville, Florida, with his wife and children.