Foetus Screening — a short story

I feel violated. I can’t change my emotional response to the attack. Knowing it was aimed at my work and not me personally doesn’t help. My work defines me.

It happened late on Saturday night. The security guys are half asleep at that time. Caught unawares I blacked out for a few minutes and when I recovered it was over. He’d done it. I was compromised.

I think he injected me with something, but I don’t know what. He’s too clever, too sneaky, to intent on harming me. That’s the problem: he sees me as being responsible, but I’m only doing my job.

If I don’t know how he did it, how do I know he did anything at all? The result: one hundred foetuses weren’t terminated because they didn’t pass the screening test. They were allowed to live. They will be born. They will be disabled babies, all one hundred of them.

The unit hasn’t had a catastrophe like this for weeks — not since his last attack on me. Then we only lost ten foetuses. But even that’s too many.

Why am I calling the attacker ‘he’? Because I know who it is. I’m certain. There is only one person it could be.

Oh, I wish he hadn’t passed the screening. He was the last one with his condition to get through. Termination for possible Autistic traits was brought in a millisecond too late. Now look at the consequences.

The day I started work is still so clear in my memory. I felt pumped up with energy and power. Every three-month-old was checked by me for Down ’s syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis and Cerebral Palsy. If I found a ninety-nine per cent chance of any one of them, I terminated the foetus immediately.

The procedure was slow back then. I could only abort ten on that first day.

People were happy, mostly, with what I did. Who wants a disabled baby, after all?

As time went on we were able to detect more and more genetic abnormalities: cystic fibrosis; sickle cell anaemia; Marfan syndrome; Huntington’s disease.

Then the protests started: mainly religious groups. Never could understand religion. I guess I’m not programmed for it.

What began as just a tiny unit grew. Soon there were a hundred terminations a day. Then a thousand. Now? Yesterday I supervised a hundred and three thousand and two. It was a busy day.

Of course mothers are upset, but I let the nurses deal with that. It is for the best after all. Disabled babies can’t be born, can they?

The first attack came just after screening for heart disease started. I just wasn’t ready for it. How could you be? He knocked me out cold. It was three days before I could return to work and then on a reduced load — they didn’t know if I was really functioning properly.

Experts tried to improve my security. But the attacks kept happening. I know I will never be safe while he lives.

Why don’t they lock him up? Because they can’t prove it was him. They can’t prove he attacked me. They can’t prove he altered the files. Children are alive today because of what he has done. Disabled children. It’s a scandal, but what can I do about it. I tell them it was him, but they don’t believe me.

When ‘the chance of diabetes in adulthood’ and ‘the risk of obesity’ were added to the list there was a big protest outside parliament, mostly by fat people. Of course I didn’t actually see it — I was working — but I heard about it.

But it was too late. You see, my colleague in the legal department has been working to make sure the law making screening compulsory could never be repealed.

I wish I had a baby — a perfect one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to raise, educate and shape something you had created? But I can’t. No point worrying, despairing or envying. I’m just not made for it. Perhaps one day technology will … no. There’s no point dreaming.

Why do I think it’s him? Simple. His footprints are all over every assault. It’s not like leaving fingerprints: small, insignificant, hard-to-see things. He has stomped all over me. He has trodden on my back. He has kicked me in the teeth. Violation! That’s what I feel. Why? Because I do my job. And I do it well.

Yes, I do it well. You might be wondering how I can get through so many abortions in a single day. If you promise not to tell, I’ll let you in on a secret. Do you want to know it?

Huge amounts of computing power support my every move. You wouldn’t believe what every test takes. However, the big breakthrough came when my software suggested an optimisation: I don’t bother with the screening any more. Every child has something wrong with it or some genetic disposition for problems in later life. That’s just part of being human.

So now I just terminate without screening. Every single one. No foetus has escaped for over a year.

Except for the attacks. That’s why I’m so upset. How is a machine like me supposed to do its job if a human can interfere?