Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

Big Family

page 9

Big Family

Alan Dudley threw down the "Weekly News" he had been trying to read, and lit up a cigarette. He glared savagely at the white wall opposite, and at the calendar on it, at the date "April 5, 1971." He would remember this as one of the worst days of his life. As the smoke crept down his throat he coughed, painfully.

The door opened. His head jerked round, but it was only a civilian, in a light green suit who gave him one swift sharp glance before going out the other side. Presently the door opened again. This time it was a nurse.

"I'm sorry, Mr Dudley, I have bad news for you. Your baby was born dead."

His mind staggered under the blow. A boiling mass of fear churned through him. "Mary?"

"Your wife is perfectly all right. She's asleep now. You can come in and see her in the morning, Mr Dudley."

"I see. Thank you, nurse."

"There now, Mr Dudley, I know how you must feel. But you must try and comfort yourself. Your wife will need all the help you can give her."

"Yes. very well, nurse, thank you. I'll come in tomorrow."

The unanswerable finalness of it made him weak and very tired as he fumbled his way out. One child they had had, poor fragile little darling, and this was Mary's second miscarriage. Would it be like this every time?

Outside, it was dark. He drove round to pop in on his friend, Doug. Doug. Madison had been his best man, and best friend.

"Hullo, old chap, come on in and have a drink. What's the news?"

"The baby was still-born, Doug. Mary's okay. But this is her second failure, you know, it's going to hurt her."

"Poor old Al. I can't tell you how sorry I am. Sit down now and try and tell me about it."

"I don't know any more to tell. Anyway, what more could there be?"

There was considerably more.

At 1 p.m. Doug, remarked, "It's a funny thing, but it seems to me that although medical science has been getting better and better, there are more miscarriages and such-like now than there were just a while ago."

"Are you sure?"

"My brother's wife had one, you know, and I know of several others recently. Not premature, or anything like that."

"Curious. I'll check up on the figures tomorrow."

He remembered seeing them in Year-books. Yet when he was looking for them in the public library, he could find no mention anywhere. In the index at the back, he noticed, where the reference could have been there was a black blocking-out. It made him more curious. He tried to work out where the mention should have been. As far back as he looked, there was very often I he stump of a page, nowhere a figure.

He went and asked the librarian where he could find tables of infant mortality. The man seemed to know nothing.

As soon as he could he came to find his wife, tied down by the spotless white sheet-metal of a hospital sheet. She smiled up at him painfully, tired and strained.

Later, when he asked her, she said, "Oh, yes, Mrs James in the next bed—her baby was dead too, poor dear. And Mrs Marsh too."

His mind damped tight on its resolutions.

That night he wrote a letter to his Member of Parliament.

He opened his door, the following evening, to two pale brown uniforms.

"Alan Fraser Dudley?"


"C'mon." With a brusque jerk of the head.

"But why? What do you want with me?"

"This revolver is very silent. It would attract no attention. Come on."

Dudley let himself be led outside to a pale brown van, protesting, and demanding answers without getting any, and climbed into the back with one of his escorts.

When the journey was evidently finished, he climbed out again in front of a building he couldn't recognise at all.


Inside. Fresh paint work along the corridors. Men and women passing, all in brown uniforms, very busy. Up in a lift, then along another corridor. The guard knocking at a door. Inside, a greying hard-faced man was sitting at a desk facing him.

"Ah. Alan Fraser Dudley?"

"That's right."

"Be seated, please. You may leave us (to the guards). Wait outside the door. Now, sir. This is your letter?"

"Yes, it is."

"If I understand correctly, you claim that the Romanian Public Hospital is. having a quite unreasonable number of unsuccessful childbirths, and that this is somehow being officially connived at. And you are demanding a government enquiry."

"That's right."

"Surely, Mr Dudley, you are making these damaging assertions on very little evidence, in fact on pure coincidence."

"No sir, I am not a fool."

"I see. Very well, Mr Dudley. Now then. You have heard of the International Population Bureau?"

"Yes. Once or twice."

"That is where you are now, in the local branch office. I am Major Gantaz, an agent accredited to the Bureau through the United Nations.

"The organisation, as you know, was set up in 1965 to deal with the worsening population problem. It is only in the last three years that it has been effective.

"Mr Dudley, the present population of the world is just over 3,500 million, and it has been increasing at the rate of 47 million a year. Do you think that you can realise the implications of that?"

"It's just impossible, isn't it?"

"Exactly. It's impossible. Two thirds of these people are already underfed, and this proportion is growing larger all the time. That is, that the average man is now nearer starvation than he was in 1900, before he got all the so-called boons of science. Enormous efforts are being made to increase food production, but they are merely absorbed by the new population. The capital needed for long-term projects is being exhausted in simply keeping people alive."

"But can't science solve this problem?"

"The problem was partly created by science. Death control is very easy—it needs only a relatively small number of technicians armed with penicillin, serums, Ddt and soap, which are cheap. But birth control is very hard. It requires a long term effort of the will by every single individual."

"But what about the birth control pill?"

"No appreciable effect at all. Stops people from having children when they don't want them. But nothing can stop them if they do. In poor and unhealthy countries men have always had large families—to ensure the survival of some against sickness and malnutrition. Now almost every child is being kept alive—and they keep on having large families because they want to.

"And another thing. When only the fittest survive, unfavourable mutations are weeded out. The human stock steadily improves. But when enormous and costly efforts are made to preserve the weakly children, and the freaks, humanity is steadily getting poorer in quality. In 30 years, if there is not some slowing down, the whole world would be like the poorer parts of India—in a state of perpetual famine, with hideous crowding, and with men getting more and more degraded. Only a completely totalitarian organ iration could possibly run things at all."

"So what are you doing then?"

"Haven't you guessed? We, the Bureau, control every maternity hospital in the world. Every child with hereditary defects or poor genetic material Ls quitely disposed of."

"But My baby was all right!"

"You have hereditary Tb, have you not?"

"Yes, I suppose I have."

"So you see why we couldn't let you cause a fuss. This is still a democracy. People couldn't stand it."

"But this is impossible. This is awful. What right have you ..."

"In 30 years there would be no human rights at all."

"No. It's intolerable."

"Mr Dudley, sit down. It is utterly necessary. You have given me no choice but to tell you this. This knowledge is too dangerous for us to let you spread around. Think about it for a moment. Will you join us in the Bureau, working for the salvation of humanity?"

All Dudley could see in his mind was the face of his wife, weary and heartbroken.

"No. No, no. no."

He opened the door to go. The major nodded . tiredly at the guards, and one of them quietly and neatly shot Alan Dudley in the back of the neck.

John C. Ross.